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37th Anniversary Issue 



Frederik Pohl Isaac Asimov Michael Shea 
Harlan Ellison Algis Biidrys John Brunner 
Robert Holdstock Nancy Springer 
Lucius Shepard Reginald Bretnor 

James Tiptree^ Jr. 



Blish, Harlan Ellison, Ursula K. LeGuin and 
18 others— 2 2 startling answers to the question 


Afterlives is a new collection of 20 stories 
and two poems, many of them published 
here for the first time, that explore with 
brilliant imagination and artistry the ulti- 
mate question of life after death. Included is 
the Harlan Ellison masterpiece “The Region 
Between” in Its original Illustrated version. 


Stories About Life After Death 
Edited and with an introduction by 


A Vintage OiiglnaE Paperbound. now at your bookstore. 


A division of Random House 



Anne Moroz 

A riveting space thriller atxxjt a woman 
pilot's struggle against an evil corporation 
—and a terrifying life-form that induces 

Kate Harlin is the sole survivor of a tragic 
space expedition in which she saw her 
crew-mates spiral one by one into 
homicidal madness, the victims of a 
strange contagion. Kate is forced to 
abandon ship and crew and escape in a 
cryogenic lifeboat. She is rescued from 
deep space oblivion only to be closely 
questioned and held prisoner by a hostile 
and suspicious expedition sponsor, the 
Consortium. What drove her crew-mates 
insane? And is she herself doomed to 
madness? Kate is forced to return to the 
ship where the entity that killed her crew- 
mates is alive. . .and waiting. 

Cover art by Jim Warhda 

0-445-201 67-3/$3.50 

(In Canada: 0-445-20168-1/$4.50) 


Algis Budrys 

A classic novel from an award-winning 
author about a mysterious structure on the 
Moon, and its effect on those sent to 
explore it. 

Scientist Ed Hawks had created the matter 

transmitter, an amazing device that could 

serxl a man to the Moon and at the same 

time create his duplicate on Earth. Many ^ 

volunteers had been sent to the Moon 

by Hawks to explore the baffling structure ^ 401 ^ 

found there — only to die mere minutes into 

its alien maze, their duplicates on Earth * ^ 

reduced to madness. But now Ed had 

found the man who could succeed where 

others failed: At Barker, a restless 

adventurer. Will Barker^ fierce pride drive 

him to enter this most alien challenge to 

find the riddlels answer at the heart of the 

lethal maze? 

Cover art by James Gurney 


(In Canada: 0-445-20319-6/$4.50) 

Foundation. ..Foundation and Empire. . . Second Foundation. 
Foundation’s Edge. It’s a universal phenomenon forged from 
the singular imagination of sf Master Isaac Asimov. With this 
latest addition to his Hugo-\winning series, Asimov now 
expands his universe once again with the most thrilling Foun- 
dation novel yet. FOUNDATION AND EARTH. 

The epic saga continues! 



Reginald Bretnor 



Lucius Shepard 



Michael Shea 





James Tiptree, Jr. 



Robert Holdstock 



Frederik Pohl 



John Brunner' 



Nancy Springer 

Dtp ART M 




Algis Budrys 



Harlan Ellison 

SCIENCE: The Relativity of Wrong 


Isaac Asimov 


EDWARD L. FERMAN, Editor & Publisher ISAAC ASIMOV, Science Columnist 

DALE FARRELL, Circulation Manager AUDREY FERMAN, Business Manager 

ALOIS BUDRYS, Book Review Editor ANNE JORDAN, Managing tditor 


The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (ISSN: 0024-984X), Volume 71, No. 4, Whole No. 42S, Oct. 1986. 
Published monthly by Mercury Press, Inc. at $1.75 per copy. Annual subscription $19.50; $23.50 outside of the U.S. 
(Canadian subscribers: please remit in U.S. dollars or add 30%.) Postmaster: send form 3579 to Fantasy and Science 
Fiction, Box 56 Cornwall, Conn. 06753. Publication office. Box 56, Cornwall, Conn. 06753. Second class postage paid 
at Cornwall, Conn. 06753 and at additional mailing offices. Printed in U.S.A. Copyright ® 1986 by Mercury Press, Inc. 
All rights, including translations into other languages, reserved. Submissions must be accompanied by stamped, 
self-addressed envelope. The publisher assumes no responsibility for return of unsolicited manuscripts. 

James Tiptree*s last story here was ''Good Nighty Sweethearts** 
(March 1986). Here is something completely different, in which 
the Devil makes a condolence call to the Heavenly City and 
offers a most remarkable deal . . . 

Our Resident Djinn 




V W hen God died, the Devil 
survived him a while. 

The obsequies were impressive, 
and not unduly long. Out of respect 
for his old Adversary, Satan ordered 
that the more flamboyant fires of Hell 
be banked, and the noisiest sinners 
muffled; he also decreed a half-holiday 
for senior staff — a purely arbitrary 
usage of antiquity, since Hell has 
neither night nor day. 

As the last elegiac choirs of cheru- 
bim faded through the empyrean, so 
clear as to be heard even in Hell, Lu- 
cifer felt an odd disquiet in his bra- 
zen heart. It was almost as though 
some unaccountable new responsi- 
bility had fallen to him. Clearly, things 
were entering a new epoch. 

Might it not be fitting, now that it 
was presumably possible, for him to 
pay his last respects in person? 

But the flight upward would be a 

long one. He had come down ex- 
press, but even-so, morn had changed 
to noon, and noon to dewy eve, en 
route. He shuddered, causing a small 
thunderclap, as he recalled how his 
once-snowy pinions had changed to 
ebon batwings, his feet to taloned 
hooves, and his bright angelic fea- 
tures to the grim (but, he always 
considered, distinguished) features 
he now bore, as he fell. A long way. 
. . . And he was older now. 

Surely it would be only sensible to 
have a medical checkup first? 

He whistled up a posse of work- 
goblins to scour the pits for viable 
physicians, and leaned upon a for- 
ward battlement of his dread castle 
to wait. 

High above the Purgatorial Plain, 
the view always soothed him. Here 
and there through the middle dis- 
tance sparkled the flares of volcanic 


Our Resident Djinn 

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blowholes, from which fiery rivers of 
blood and molten metal ran hissing 
to the Sea of Torment. Charred bar- 
racks and camps for the lower order 
of fiends marked the ashy plain, while 
behind all towered the black abut- 
ments of the Mountains of Hell, each 
with its special horror. And looming 
above the center of the range, he had 
had the fancy to install a great snow- 
clad peak, where he could arrange 
suitable punishments for those ex- 
ceptional sinners who could endure 
heat. Its topmost spires were lost in 
the low-hanging gray clouds that 
scudded perpetually, mockingly, 
above the parching plain. 

In the foreground of this spectac- 
ular view yawned the Pit of Hell 
proper, whose seven levels had been 
besung by poets. From sentiment, Sa- 
tan hadn't changed things there much 
of recent centuries. Down below the 
seventh level lay the fearful Gulf of 
Silence. Not even he knew what was 
in its deeps. Every now and then he 
would cause some especially vocif- 
erous evildoer to be flung down there, 
and listen attentively to the long- 
dwindling ululations. But none ever 
returned to tell about it, nor did any- 
thing else emerge. 

Lucifer occasionally contemplated 
devising some chain of bodies by 
which the gulf might be plumbed, 
but he had as usual been kept too busy 
with the interminable adjudications 
and squabblings of the hierarchy of 

Once, one of the modem breed of 
scientists, condemned to a short stay 
for excessive media exposure, had 
said that it might be a black hole in 
the making, since energy and matter 
here conformed to other laws; but he 
overestimated the Satanic attention 
span, and was himself pitched in be- 
fore he’d worked out half his theory. 
Remembering this, Lucifer leaned far 
out, to send his dark gaze into the 
darker depths. Might this be a gate- 
way through which some new phen- 
omena appropriate to this new age 
would come? But darkness met only 
darkness, with no change so far as he 
could tell. ... Or were there the faint- 
est strange phosphorescent gleam- 
ings, as of something in slow stir 
deep down there? He stared his hard- 
est, still unable to be sure. 

And the doctors were now ar- 
riving, a tatterdemalion band of 
butchers-turned-surgeons, of pricked 
pomposities and singed Feelgoods, 
all yapped and nipped on by the 
younger trolls. Lucifer turned and 
raked them with his terrible orbs, 
opening for the occasion his third 
one, which sees only fact. He thus de- 
tected one doctor whose qualifica- 
tions were genuine — a sorry wight 
who had come under ecclesiastical 
displeasure for some forgotten crime, 
such as administering anesthetic to 
women in childbirth. When Satan ex- 
plained what was wanted, this man 
left off his groaning and agreed that a 
checkup was a sound idea. But he 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

held up the stumps that were all that 
the Holy Office had left of his erring 

‘Tou shall have them back — when 
I return safely,” Satan told him; the 
flare of desperate hope in the man’s 
eyes made the goblins snicker. 

“The heart would be your prob- 
lem,” the doctor said. “But, er. Your 
Majesty — do you have one?” 

“I do,” snapped Satan. “Examine 
it instanter!” 

So instruments were described, 
and devised by Hell’s smiths and arti- 
sans, and the doctor went to work. 
Although he had a little difficulty in 
persuading the Lord of Hell to submit 
to a stress test — several bystanding 
demons were inadvertently inciner- 
ated — everything proved out satis- 
factorily, and soon his mighty patient 
was pronounced fit for an extended 
upward flight. 

‘Tour respiratory-vascular systems 
are as sound as a young tiger’s,” the 
doctor told Satan. “But even so, I 
cannot guarantee against the effects 
of, er, psychic trauma. Stresses of, ah, 
supernatural origin, such—” 

“You take care of the flapping, 
and I’ll take care of the flaps,” Satan 
replied, and waved them all back to 
their respective torments. Noting that 
some of his higher-ranking subordi- 
nates seemed to be evincing an undue 
cheer, he gave them all a short but 
pungent lecture on the folly of ambi- 
tion in Hell. Then he strode to his 
tower for takeoff, the imps he had 

delegated to put up refreshments 
scampering in his wake with the 

Comfortably reassured and provi- 
sioned, Lucifer launched himself up- 
ward on his great black wings, and 
was soon riding the massive thermals 
of Hell, circling ever higher above his 
domains. Only he knew which of the 
tiny flecks of lesser darkness con- 
tained the promise of true light 

As the smog thickened below him, 
and the faint glow of the sky slowly 
brightened around, he found himself 
in a sphere where there seemed 
neither up nor down, nor anything to 
mark his way. The thermals faded 
out. Disorienting; but his instincts 
guided him true, and he knew that he 
would soon emerge. 

But as his powerful wingbeats car- 
ried higher, he could not help but 
wonder what his reception would be, 
and whether all that he assumed was 
so. That God was dead, or at least se- 
riously disabled, he knew; if only be- 
cause he had been able to lay hands, 
or claws, upon the distraught mes- 
senger. The poor celestial was so over- 
come that he could only squeal help- 
lessly as he was taken, and the Devil 
himself had been so surprised that 
instead of subjecting the messenger 
to agonies sure to wring the truth 
from him, he had contented himself 
with jerking out a fistful of wing 
feathers before he let him go, still 
shrieking fiitilely for divine Help. By 

Our Reskleiit Djmn 


this, Satan was quite sure of the truth 
of his message, for had his Opponent 
yet lived, even a failed attempt on His 
minion would have brought pyrotech- 
nic displays of His displeasure. 

But what else went on up there? 

Odd things had happened before. 
Take the whole business of the Son 
and his fate. Flapping steadily, Satan 
shook his head; the metaphysics of all 
that had been too much for his prag- 
matic mind. The Father of a virgin’s 
son? The Crucifixion as a triumph? 
And the whole Resurrection hoopla 
—Nole me tangere, now-you-see-it- 
now-you-don’t — Either you’re re- 
surrected or you’re not, was Satan’s 

He respected the man Jesus as a 
sincere fanatic — he himself had made 
a tiring, good-faith effort at the Temp- 
tation; but the rest was all too much. 
To Satan, it smelled of the devices 
graybeards will use to conceal their 
impotence. Was something more in 
this line going on up there? Would he 
arrive to find some cockamamy Rein- 
carnation, perhaps, in league with a 
borrowed diety? That Vishnu chap, 
for instance, had some vitality left. 
Omniscience can change to nulli- 
science, or omnisenility; he hoped he 
wasn’t spending all this effort to meet 
with some metaphysical rodomon- 
tade. Almost, he turned back. 

But then the sky cleared abruptly, 
and his misgivings vanished as he saw 
a familiar marker. He was passing it 
from below this time, but he knew 

what it read: ALL HOPE ABANDON 
YE WHO ENTER HERE. It was about 
when he fell past this that the last of 
his halo had gone skittering away 
lightless in a scorching blast from 
Hell. Death, what a day that had been! 

Now he took a quick scan about, 
just to make sure that all was in 
order, and no guardians who hadn’t 
got the Word were there to contend 
his way. All clear. 

He continued mounting upward 
under the cool sun of Heaven. It 
beamed from the bluest of blue skies, 
set with tiny pearled clouds. Far be- 
low, a faint smudge concealed his 
own immense dominions, but no sul- 
furic scent of them reached here to 
comfort his nose. How quickly he 
had come! Was he much stronger 
than he’d believed, or had Space itself 
shrunk? Who could say.? 

And yes, high under the celestial 
vault, he could now make out a shin- 
ing, a thickening island of something 
more than cloud. Why, Heaven itself 
was in view — he had already come 
halfway! It was definitely time for a 

A little cloudlet was passing him. 
'*Like to like in the empty air,"' he 
told it. ""We Lord of Matter desires a 
chair." A gesture, and the thing con- 
densed gratifyingly into a sumptuous 
airborne couch. Things had changed, 
ail right, he told himself. No simple 
black spell would function here if his 
Enemy still lived. 

He found that the imps had packed 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

a proper lunch, for once. A hearty 
sandwich of broiled liars’ tongues 
(in which one of the smallest imps 
seemed to have become entrapped, 
so that he had to pluck it out and 
fling it away screeching. Little canni- 
bals!) And a flask of raped virgins’ 
tears, yes — and some pickled bikers’ 
parts, a nice contemporary touch. He 
must remember to commend them 
on his return, he thought, munching 
pleasurably. Perhaps they’d like a 
plump politician all to themselves to 
torment? Gratitude was, of course, 
unheard of in Hell; but a good admin- 
istrator knows how to keep the help 

Lifting the flask of tears, he re- 
flected that he had indeed passed his 
point of no return: it was the sight of 
the Heavenly City that marked the 
limits of his banishment. Well, he 
would see it again now, the place he 
had so nearly come to rule, and where 
he had refused to serve. Not for an 
instant had he regretted his choice; 
but now an odd melancholy, almost a 
nostalgia, stole into his mood. 

Away with it! He must be growing 
chilled; he’d forgotten how blessed 
cold it was up here, "'Fire! Your prince 
commands you, glow! My resting 
place alluming. Come warm me for 
an hour or so — but bum without 
consuming^ And at his cabalistic 
sign, a border of flame like Elmo’s 
Fire sprang out around the couch and 
himself, creating a cozy little inferno. 

He finished his repast in a cheerier 

mood, then rose and grandly stretched 
his fiery form. As he turned, he no- 
ticed that he’d left quite a mess; a 
wave of the hand abolished it. No 
need to act like an ore! And with a 
mighty wing buffet to the air, he was 
on his way upward again, his eyes on 
the growing splendor above. 

In what seemed a very short time, 
the flame-edged shadow of his dark 
wings fell upon the drawbridge lead- 
ing to the Gates of the City. The 
bridge was down; the great gates 
stood ajar. No one was in sight. 

As he hovered in for landing, a 
figure whom he recognized as Peter 
rose sleepily from the flowery greens- 
ward beside the Gates. 

“Avast!” cried Peter, rubbing his 
eyes. “Away with ye, black scum! 
What do ye here? — Oh, sorry,” Peter 
interrupted himself. “For a moment I 
f-forgot.” And the poor Saint looked 
so woebegone that Satan checked his 

“Well, so you’ve come, too — you 
might as well come in.” But when Pet- 
er went to push the Gates wider, the 
task seemed so far beyond his strength 
that Lucifer gave him a hand, being 
careful not to scorch the beautiful 
pearl work. 

“Did you not receive my condo- 
lences?” he asked. 

“Oh yes — I meant to tell you. We 
did appreciate your note. And the 
lovely wrought flowers. Of course 
the wreath was a little warm” — here 
Peter glanced at a burn mark on his 

Our Resident Djinn 


palm — “we had to quench it a little 
first. But it’s nice to know folks stick 
together at times like these.’’ 

The Devil chuckled deep in his 
throat. “Just thought I’d come up and 
see how you all were fixed.’’ Then, as 
the full view of the Heavenly City 
opened to him, he halted. 

“My word! It — it certainly has 
held up well! You’ve done a splendid 
job of maintenance; can’t have been 
easy. . . . It’s been so long; but don’t I 
see a few new features? Additions and 

“Oh yes.” Peter revived a bit. “One 
must keep up with the centuries; you 
know. And we get so many fine artists 
up here. Although, I must confess, 
some of the very recent stuff — Ah 
well. I’m no art critic.” 

“1 thought I recognized that Cal- 
der.” Satan pointed to a vast lumi- 
nous mobile. “But that one, frankly 
— ” He indicated a giant cow’s skull 
against a blue sky. 

“An original O’Keefe,” Peter said, 
a trifle smugly. “She went right into 
production. . . . Would you care to 
have me show you about?” 

“I would indeed,” Satan replied. 
“But where are all your people? I 
should have thought you’d be quite 
crowded with the Blessed by now.” 

“Oh, everyone’s gone for the day. 
Uriel — he’s so practical — he de- 
cided they had to do something to lift 
the atmosphere. So he and Rafe and 
the rest organized a picnic excursion 
to the Elysian Fields. Some of the old 

shades can still talk a bit, you know. 
It’s very interesting. So they’ve all 
gone — that is, the ones who still 
have enough individuality left.” 

“Individuality? How do you mean?” 

“Don’t you find that? Oh well, it’s 
that so many of ours seem to just melt 
away into grand abstraction, after a 
time. I expect it’s the pure air, or 
something. And with all that singing, 
too. Don’t yours? In an, ah, reverse 
sense, as it were?” 

“No, I can’t say they do. Mine stay 
all too identifiable. Although, now 
that you mention it, I do seem to have 
noticed a rather shapeless vortex de- 
veloping around one or two of my 
chaps. Fellow named Hinckel, or Hit- 
tie. Or was it Nickerson? Or Fail- 

Peter nodded. “That’s how it starts. 
And then more and more get sucked 
in till you get a kind of critical mass, 
and blooie! — there’s nothing left 
but* radiance.” 

“In this case it’d be more like a 
bad smell, I imagine,” Lucifer com- 
mented. “But seriously, perhaps we 
have less merging because they’re so 
many different ways to sin, but only 
one way to, ah, enter here?” 

“That could be it!” exclaimed Pet- 
er; he seemed quite happy now. Peter 
loved a good theological argument, 
Satan remembered. “Although it has 
been said that evil is monotone. But, 
come, I must show you the new son 
et lumiere. I never can pronounce 
that right. It’s all computerized,” he 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

added with shy pride. “And that’s our 
sports palace” 

They were strolling by an impres- 
sive amphitheater. Satan could see 
the scoreboard rising above the 
stands, but the format puzzled him— 
it seemed to show nothing but win- 

“Oh, it wouldn’t do to have peo- 
ple lose,’’ Peter told him. “The aim is 
to achieve a perfect draw at the high- 
est possible score. You’d be surprised 
what a thrilling game we have, when 
each team has to help the other avoid 
a win.’’ 

“I would indeed,’’ Lucifer agreed 
politely. And then they fell silent, for 
they were entering the Avenue of the 
Blessed, the grand colonnade from 
which risen spirits had their first 
view of the Divine Radiance. It was 
still radiant, and as they proceeded 
along, Lucifer was quite touched to 
see that the old barbaric Throne was 
still quite visible under the Renais- 
sance splendors. Despite that fore- 
knowledge, it gave him a jolt when he 
raised his gaze and perceived that 
Throne and dais were completely 

“Watch.’’ Peter whistled, and a 
passive dove alighted on his hand. 
The Saint pressed what seemed to be 
a small set of buttons on the dove’s 
breast. At once the radiance increased 
ten fold, in a great upspringing fan- 
work of colored lights, which seemed 
to elevate dais and all into a sunrise 
of coruscating brilliance, wheeling 

and changing as they watched, until 
the mind was quite bewildered. At 
the same time, music played, now 
sinking to a murmur, now rising in 
crescendo — a totally stunning ef- 

“Marvelous!’’ the Devil murmured. 

“If only you could have seen it 
when — when — ’’ But the poor Saint 
broke down weeping and could not 
continue. Satan turned away consid- 
erately, and found his own throat 
constricted. The nostalgia that had 
touched him earlier was back again, 
stronger than before. It all seemed 
such a shame. Why couldn’t things 
have gone on for a respectable eter- 

Instead of asking the questions he 
had intended, having to do with the 
details of the Lord’s demise and the 
complications of the Trinity, he found 
himself saying consolingly, “There, 
there, old friend. Always remember 
what a splendid career was his, start- 
ing from a simple nomadic desert 

“Y-yes, that’s t-true,’’ sobbed Pet- 
er. “You must forgive me.’’ It’s just 
that — Ohhh.’’ And he wept again 

“No need,’’ said the Devil gruffly. 
“I assure you, I sympathize” Then, 
seeing that the old Saint seemed quite 
disoriented, he asked in gentle tones, 
“But tell me, what are you going to 
do with all of this?’’ 

Peter gulped and blew his nose. 

Our Resident Djinn 


“Well, at first we were just intending 
to maintain it as it is. After all, there is 
always the p-possibility that — the p- 
p-possibility — forgive me. Yes, main- 
tain it as it is But since then some 

of the higher-ups have had word that 
the space is going to be needed. We 
don’t know what for. But after all, we 
have had the lion’s share, so to speak, 
so perhaps it’s fair. So we’re having a 
kind of, a greensward sale, you might 

“The Allah people have a bid in 
for the sound system — they do a lot 
of praying, and it seems they’re hav- 
ing quite a revival.’’ He nodded. “Yes, 
and they want some of the plantings, 
too. They are quite fond of flowers, I 
believe. And there’s a Shinto sect 
who’s asking foi time; I think they’re 
interested in the topiary. And of 
course the pavements; thaVs no prob- 
lem. But all the rest — and the — Oh, 
1 don’t know what we shall do; it all 
seems so horrid — and some of the 
Cherubim are quite incapable of main- 
taining themselves in any other e- 
environment — ’’ And he all but broke 
down again. 

Satan noticed that, moved by the 
old Saint’s grief, he had absently claw- 
ed a divot from the flowery turf. He 
replaced it carefully, considering. 

“It does seem a dreadful shame to 
have it all broken up,’’ he said. “Let’s 
see; I have some figures in my head. 

. . . But how much is a cubit, in met- 
ric? No matter — I know it’ll do. 
Look, my old friend, it happens that I 

have a lot of spare room in my fore 
grounds. Not that there’s been any 
shortage of sinners. But do you recall 
the Doctrine of Infant Damnation? 
Well, I had to set up a vast sort of 
nursery area for that — and then, 
thank, ah, Fate, they discontinued it. 
So I have some very nice real estate; 
quite vacant, not too hot at all, and 
the air has nothing wrong with it that 
a good set of scrubbers wouldn’t fix. 
But the thing is, what with the cur- 
rent cost of energy and the ridicu- 
lously inflated prices of temptations, 
my cash-flow position isn’t too good. 
I couldn’t begin to pay you—’’ 

“Oh my goodness,’’ Peter inter- 
rupted him. “The price isn’t the prob- 
lem at all. Why, we’d give it to some- 
one who’d keep it all together!’’ 

“Well, now, that was what I rather 
hoped. And I do have an abundance 
of labor, if they can keep their smudgy 
little hands where they belong.’’ For 
an instant he looked quite fierce, and 
his tail lashed. “What I’m getting at is 
that if your people agreed, we could 
ship this whole thing down and set it 
up very attactively, just as if it’d never 
been moved. Certain elements of the 
view outside might not be quite right; 
but don’t I recall something about 
the Blessed regaling themselves by 
looking over the wall and watching 
the damned fry, wasn’t it?’’ 

“Oh yes, in primitive times — very 
primitive,’’ said the Saint hastily. “But 
this is really splendid! Do you actual- 
ly mean you would? I’m just sure the 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

Powers and Dominions would be de- 
lighted. They’ve been quite broken 
up about the sale. Oh, I can’t tell you 
what this would mean!” 

“And you could all come down for 
long visits, and check on our mainte- 

‘‘Oh yes — Oh, I’m quite sure—” 

“Of course,’’ said the Devil 
thoughtfully, ‘‘there may be some of 
the newly Blessed who will be a bit 
confused by finding themselves head- 
ed downward, to Hell.” 

‘‘You don’t mean those evangelic 
chaps? We aren’t expecting them.” 

‘‘Yom may not be,” said Satan with 
relish. “No, I was thinking of the 
people you normally get. Perhaps if 
we made it clear that it’s more of a 
museum — no, that wouldn’t do, 
either. Oh well, you’ll think of some- 

“Yes, I’m sure we will.” Peter was 
almost happy now. 

“By the way,” Satan inquired as 
they turned away and the far-ofif light 
show rolled to its finale, “what’s that 
curious area near the Throne, where 
the light seems so — so — ” 

“I know what you mean,” Peter 
responded. “Don’t you recall? That 
was the Holy Virgin’s place. And the 
Magdalen’s. But things there have 
been undergoing some very puzzling 
changes lately. I mean, they had been, 
before — b-before — ” 

“There, there,” said Satan. “Don’t 
tear yourself apart, old comrade. After 
all, we’ve got one major problem 

solved. And I have a hunch what 
might be going on in the ladies’ quar- 
ter — we’ve had a few problems our- 
selves. . . . 

“But to return to practical mat- 
ters: Let’s see, ” he added thought- 
fully. “If all goes well, my boys could 
start as soon as you give the word. 
But don’t you think someone should 
stay on permanent duty to handle 
Admissions? And have you decided 
what to do about the Book — or have 
you automated that, too?” 

“Oh goodness, no!” said the old 
Saint emphatically. “Or rather, yes! 
—We tried it. Now that almost every- 
one has numbers, it seemed quite 
promising. So we had one installed 
for testing — just a few million names 
at first. And there were a few little— 
is ‘bugs’ the word? — to unravel, 
things that would have been simple 
for any mere Angel. Such as a person 
having more than one social security 
number. Would you believe we found 
one Saintly lady with seventeen? She’d 
been feeding half a township. And, 
conversely, numbers that were at- 
tached to more than one name- 
several writers and, ah, show-biz 
people had dozens. But we soon got 
those ironed out. And in the process 
we discovered that quite a number of 
our very youngest people seemed to 
be most adept at such devices. So we 
organized them into record-keeping 
squads. They did seem to be delighted 
to have an alternative to making mu- 
sic, you know. And things were won- 

Our Residenl Dfinn 


dcrfully restful for me — for a while.” 
He smiled reminiscently. 

“But I gather something hap- 

“Well, yes We began receiving 

the most surprising people. There 
seemed to be a rash of petty disasters 
on Earth, theater fires and so on; and 
I recall we got the entire comple- 
ment of the Take wara Japanese girls* 
volleyball team. That was no great 
problem ~ but then we received the 
whole staff and inmates of a women’s 
correctional facility near Tehachapi, 
California. And then — are you famil- 
iar with an institution called the Pen- 
tagon, in the United States?” 

“I am.” Satan licked his lips. 

“Well, it seemed that our, ah, com- 
puter had somehow made contact 
with its personnel records, as well as 
other data, and the most extraordi- 
nary things began to go wrong. It 
turned out that our young geniuses 
had grown a bit, ah, restless. And the 
next thing we knew, one of our most 
revered archdioceses was under con- 
gressional investigation. . . He 
sighed. “In the end we had to scrub 
the whole thing and go back to our 
old hand methods.” 

“I see,” nodded Satan. “Well, I’m 
glad to know all this. I believe it 
might account for a period of confu- 
sion that plagued us, too.” 

“You did? Oh dear — yes, that 
might well be it. Our sincere apolo- 
gies. . . . And now — ” he waved to- 
ward the open Gates — “here come 

our returning picnickers. I do hope 
the outing cheered them!” 

A radiant procession of the Blessed 
was advancing across the outer bridge, 
guided by corps of Seraphim and Ce- 
lestial Girl Scouts. Behind them could 
be glimpsed a wild confusion of wings, 
as swan boats, riding griffins, hippo- 
griffs, and other workcreatures of the 
air disentangled themselves from their 
Heavenly harnesses. In the rear were 
the Archangelic Presences, Michael 
in the lead. 

“They do seem a little more nor- 
mal,” Peter observed as the strum of 
many harps began to tingle the air. 
“Now to communicate your wonder- 
ful offer. Oy! Sirs! Lord Michael, look 
who’s here!” 

The great Angel turned his face 
toward them, and they saw his fea- 
tures change as he recognized the 

“He came to pay his respects,” 
Peter Explained hastily, “and 
he’s thought of the most marvelous 
plan — ” 

“I have heard of your plans be- 
fore, sir,” commented Michael stiffly. 
But the others gathered round, pre- 
pared to listen. 

“It concerns the disposition of 
your — of all this wonderful crea- 
tion,” Satan gestured. “Peter tells me 
you’re thinking of letting it go piece- 
meal, and the thought gives me much 
pain.” As he went on to explain his 
proposal, he found that he felt quite 
strongly about it — so much so that 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

he thought of another argument. “And 
after all/’ he wound up, “think of 
your future incoming clientele! They 
can’t just be left to wander between 
worlds, can they? Who knows where 
they’d end up?’’ 

“That’s a point, Mike,’’ Raphael 
said. “I hear that Valhalla is resuming 
limited operations.’’ 

“H’mm,’’ said the great Archangel, 
no longer so hostile. “But still, what, 
when they enter and find the Throne 
—as it is?’’ 

“Well, I do have a suggestion there, 
though it’s more in my line than 
yours. Some of my younger succubi 
are splendid girls; if I clean them up, 
they’d look really quite acceptable. I 
could have the best of them put it 
about among the Blessed, while they 
waited outside, of course, that He is 
on a difficult Creation job and got 
tied up. Such rumors spread fast and 
would satisfy people. In fact, they’d 
be pleased with a little inside infor- 
mation, as it were. It’s the not know- 
ing. And afterward — well, maybe 
most of them will go abstract, or 
whatever. And perhaps some of your 
artists could contrive something with 
that son et lumi^re dingus—’’ 

Some of the younger angels gasped 
at that, and Michael said haughtily, 
“As you say, that is more in your line 
than ours,’* But Uriel, the practical 
one, nodded. “Really, Mike, this might 
allay a great deal of natural anxiety.’’ 

“And perhaps — ’’ murmured Ga- 
briel, fingering his Trump, “I know I 

sound foolishly optimistic, but, well, 
perhaps. A Return? And then think 
how awful it would be if we’d—’’ 

Michael nodded again, and sighed 
a grave assent. And so it was decided. 

As they walked toward the Gates, 
Lucifer was reminded of something. 
“I couldn’t help noticing,’’ he re- 
marked, shooting a glance at Peter, 
“that the area outside is remarkably 
lush and pretty. But the ground be- 
yond your walls in my domain would 
be, I fear, quite dark and bare at best. 
Not favorable for photosynthesis. So 
what do you say if I order up a pla- 
toon of firc-elementals — they’ve been 
shockingly idle lately — and have them 
station themselves along the outer 
crevices in the wall? That would give 
quite enough light to grow things, 
especially if someone went round 
now and again to remind them force- 
fully of their duties. They haven’t a 
brain among them, and it would be a 
nice, suitable job. With a very attrac- 
tive end result. What do you say? Of 
course I wouldn’t think of stationing 
any of my personnel in actual contact 
without your assent.’’ 

“Nicely put,’’ remarked Raphael. 
“I think it’s a very good idea; we cer- 
tainly don’t want the City just sitting 
on a blasted plain.’’ 

“So then we’re agreed!’’ exclaimed 
Satan, feeling remarkably elated. He 
stepped to the Gate, inhaling mighti- 
ly. “I’ll have the first work crews 
up here before you know it. And of 
course I’ll be with them to oversee 

Our Resident Djmn 


everything. ... Do I take it that you’d 
like the walls carried down first, so 
there'll be an enclosure all set up and 
waiting for — for the more delicate 
artifacts? 1 imagine you can guard the 
perimeter yourselves for the short 
time required?” 

‘‘Oh, we will!” chorused a Sera- 
phic band. 

‘‘How do you plan to move the 
whole walls?” Uriel asked curiously. 

“Work-dragons. Under proper 
control, they can cut out a portion at 
a time as neat as you please, and fly it 
down. Of course, getting it back up 
here would be a different story.” Sa- 
tan chuckled genially. “But even so, 
we could probably come up with 
something,” he added as he saw a 
shadow cross a couple of Angelic vis- 
ages. “Well!” He spread his huge black 
wings, stepping to the sill. “D’you 
know, it feels fine to have a project 
again! Maybe I could persuade you all 
to help, by selecting and gathering 
your favorite flower seeds, for in- 
stance.” Daring, he added confiding- 
ly, “You know what they say about 
the Devil and idle hands!” 

It seemed to go down well; sever- 
al older Angels chuckled. And with a 
“Farewell, all!” he was off in a great 
leap through the pearly little clouds. 

“I hope we’ve done the right 
thing,” said Gabe, the worrier. 

“Think of the alternative,” Uriel 
observed, They all sighed. And as 
they turned to go back in, Raphael 
was heard to mutter, “All those Mos- 

lems mucking about with my Exbury 
azaleas. ... I just hope the dragons 
are careful.” 

“They will be, I’m sure,” said 

Lucifer’s great leap outward car- 
ried him to a part of the sky where 
the cloudlets were few. He was feel- 
ing remarkably well, and, reminding 
himself that the way home was all 
downhill, he decided it would be 
pleasant to make one last flight up- 
ward, to where he could view all 
Heaven from above. His Heaven now, 
he reflected as he soared. Had he 
been cra 2 >\ offering them all free re- 
fuge in his domain? There would be 
problems, of course. . . . Really, the 
times were growing so strange that 
he could scarcely trust his own mo- 
tives. . . . But surely some solid evil 
would come of this. His old instincts 
for mischief were still strong. 

“If you can’t beat ’em and you 
can’t join ’em — outlive ’em!” He 
chuckled in his old, nasty way, melt- 
ing a small rainbow that had come 
too near. 

He mounted steadily, until, seeing 
a solid-looking anvil cloud above, he 
zoomed up over it and landed on the 

Ah yes — indeed a superb vista! 
The glorious golden glitter of the 
thoroughfares, the jeweled parks, and 
the great profusion of splendid man- 
sions, from large to small, in the resi- 
dential sections. 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

He lost himself for a moment in 
the sheer magic of contemplation. 
Then he began recasting his earlier 
estimates, to make sure everything 
could be suitably installed, with 
enough terrain to set it off becoming- 
ly. He’d have to accommodate wait- 
ers at the Gate, too — Peter had told 
him there was quite a queue in times 
of war or natural disasters. . . . The 
idea of poor old Peter handling a 
computer bank distracted him by its 
comicality. But there was a warning 
in it, too, in case he himself were 
ever tempted to automate. 

Yes, there would be room enough 
and to spare, he concluded. He owed 
that to that mathematician-wallah 
who had calculated and impressed 
exponential birthrates on him. He 
had cleared his infant-reception area 
on the fellow’s figures. . . . Maybe 
he’d have him sent a cup of water, no 
matter what his staff thought of that. 
They’d soon see his trip to Heaven 
hadn’t made him soft! 

“What are you doing in my nurs- 

The clear little voice behind him 
startled him so that he had to shoot 
out his pinions for balance as he 

A naked girl-child stood staring at 
him, quite incuriously, Satan saw. 
What was this, one of the Blessed 
who’d lost her way home? 

But no; she wore no halo — and 
needed none, for she was radiant all 
over. And the cold serenity of her 

smile, the icy chill in her light gray 
eyes, told him that he looked on 
something quite other than any mere 
celestial spirit. 

‘You’ll have to speak louder,’’ the 
child said, although he hadn’t spok- 
en. “I’m nearly deaf. . . . You’re one of 
my old dreams, aren’t you? Have they 
told you you’ll have to move? All this 
is to be mine soon, you know. As 
soon as I’m completely deaf — and a 
few other things.’’ 

“My apologies; I didn’t mean to 
intrude.’’ Lucifer fairly shouted, so 
that the cloud began to resonate wor- 
ryingly. “This is your nursery, you 

“Yes. But I’m growing very fast 
now. Am I not. Mother?’’ She glanced 
back at a figure so veiled and still that 
Satan had taken it for a peak of cloud. 

“Yes, child, you are. But I’ve told 
you, you have to be deaf, yes, but 
there are also other things before 
you’re ready.’’ 

The child was studying Satan. 

“I know who you are,’’ she said. 
“And who you’re going to be. You’re 
Murphy!’’ She giggled. 

It was long since the Lord of Evil 
had been addressed so lightly. Yet he 
was sure that this was no supernal 
innocence that mocked him. Rather, 
it must be something new in the line 
of demons. Another Kali? He shivered 
slightly, his tail, usually so jaunty, 
thrust out at an awkward, nervous 
angle. Kali had been relatively no- 
thing compared to this, he felt. 

Our Resident Djinn 


“And I know what you’re planning 
to do with that place.” She pointed 
down. “That’s neat. . . . But Mother 
says 1 must get over liking neatness, 
too. I bet you don’t know who I am.” 

“No, 1 certainly don’t,” said Lucif- 
er. “But I gather you are — or think 
you are — one of the people for 
whom space is being made.” 

“Not one of the people,” she gig- 
gled, then was suddenly and coldly 
mature. “I am the people. Tell him, 

“Men used to call her ‘Physis,’ the 
veiled woman said. “Now it’s ‘Na- 
ture.’ ‘Mother Nature.’ ” She uttered 
a single-syllable laugh as cold as a 
gull’s cry. “What it will be in the fu- 
ture, we neither know nor care. . . . 
She made you all, you see. In her 
dreams. It is when she can create 
consciously that she will take over ” 

The girl, abruptly a child again, 
made a moue. “All I’ve done so far is 
sleep and dream and grow,” she said. 
“It’s very boring." 

Her eyes took on a look so pale 
and fixed that she appeared not only 
deaf but blind. As she scufifed her foot 
in discontent, a rift opened in the 
cloud so near that Satan involuntarily 
put out an arm to steady her, forget- 
ting the heat of his flesh. Her little 
breast came against him as she straight- 
ened. He was appalled to feel a cold- 
ness quenching his very bones — and 
something else, too. 

“You — she has no heartbeat!” he 
exclaimed to the veiled figure. 

“Naturally. She has no heart,” the 
woman replied indifferently. “Only 
her dreams have hearts.” 

Satan shook his head, massaging 
his chilled shoulder. “Evidently things 
will be very different in the new 
order to come,” he managed to say. 

The figure nodded silently. Satan 
felt he was getting into very deep wa- 
ters, but he persisted still. This might 
be his only chance. 

“And may one inquire your name, 
too, ma’am?” 

“I haven’t a suitable one. Once 
men called my favor Tyche. Now I am 
called Chance. I, too, am powerful, 
but only in my dreams. I dreamt her. 
Perhaps later 1 will dream again.” she 
stirred. “And now it is time for you to 


“Of course.” Satan bowed his most 
courtly bow, making his tail curl nor- 
mally. “I count myself privileged. But 
may I inquire about one more hap- 
pening that just could concern you?” 

The woman inclined her veiled 

“In my, ah, humble realms there is 
a pit so deep that none know what 
lies within it. Yet recently I seemed 
to observe a stirring in its depths. Is it 
possible that one of your new order 
is arriving in my small province, too?” 

“I didn’t dream that. Mother, I 
know,” the child exclaimed. 

“Arriving, you ask?” said the wom- 
an. “Manifesting would be the better 
word, since if this is what I think, he 
is everywhere. Yes, it is possible that 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

this is some incarnation of Entropy, 
my lord and spouse. He has no need 
of incarnation, since he is immanent 
—but your realms would be a fitting 
place for it, if this be his whim.” 

‘‘1 see. . . . And, and could you tell 
me what 1 am to expect from him, if it 
be he?” 

‘‘Nothing new,” she returned cold- 
ly. Satan didn't like the sound of this. 

‘‘It is possible that he will wish to 
make use of my — my space as well?” 

‘‘Oh no. Mother!” the child inter- 
rupted. ‘‘Why, I’d thought of moving 
your place to Earth, remember. Moth- 

‘‘And you had best remember to 
think twice about that plan, if you 
wish any toys left to play with,” her 
mother returned. 

“But,” said Satan desperately, 
“won’t Your Majesty have need of 
some place and services like mine? 
Some source of final punishment for 
those who break your laws or com- 
mit crimes?” 

“Oh, 1 made all that much too 
complicated last time,” the child told 
him seriously. “When I have power, it 
will all be simple. My laws will be 
unbreakable. And there will be only 
one crime, for which everyone must 

“By my tail,” exclaimed SaCan, im- 
pressed by the small being’s air of 
command. “Unbreakable laws! That 
will be certainly a novelty. And only 
one crime, of which everyone is guilty. 
What could that be?” 

“Bring born.” The child’s icy eyes 
turned full on him, freezingly. Behind 
her the tall figure stirred significant- 
ly, reminding him that he had been 

He bowed again, but received no 
acknowledgement. The girl was mur- 
muring something to her mother, who 
listened attentively. His very pres- 
ence had been forgotten. 

As he opened his wings and step- 
ped off the cloud edge, he thought he 
heard the child say, “Oh, I do hope 
that’s Daddy coming! So I can meet 
him. at last.” 

To which her mother seemed to 
reply, “You should get on well to- 
gether, child. You have so much of 
him in you.” Her tone was the bleak- 
est Satan had ever heard. 

To get away from them, he made a 
great flap that bent the air to his pin- 
ions, and went hurtling, almost with 
his former speed, toward the famil- 
iar comfort below. Never had Hell 
seemed so truly homelike. 

Ah, he thought, checking his speed 
slightly to avoid vaporizing the 
clouds, it would be good to smell real 
Hellfire again. An^l as for whatever 
might be coming, or thinking of com- 
ing, out of that doubly damned pit, 
well, he’d see how it liked a few loads 
of lava. Better yet, divert a reliable 
volcano. And meanwhile he had his 
Heavenly affairs to see to. 

As the first trace of brimstone 
reached his nostrils, his heart warmed, 
though his shoulder still ached. 

Our Resident Djinn 


Thinking of which, it occurred to 
him that he had come through this 
whole effort in fine shape; that doc- 
tor was evidently a capable man. Why 
not surprise everyone and give him 
back his hands? He was no lackey of 
Rome, after all. Let’s see — what was 
a suitable catch? Oh yes — and whirl- 
ing downward in all his dark splen- 
dor, he muttered to himself: "Hands 
in the sands of time, Pat and putter 
and play; Hands that committed crime 
^Return to him today . " 

There, that would teach those 
smart-ass goblins to be so sure they 
knew what the boss was going to do. 
And if any of them made a mistake of 
thinking that Heaven had softened 
him up, they’d soon learn their error. 

Whether or not those frigid, Grec- 
ophile, oneiromaniacs up there spoke 
truth, if they had indeed created him 
and all this cycle, Hell was still his, 
and his powers were still real. 

. . . While they lasted, a cold echo 

**How would you like it — being the wee folks* wee folks?** 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

Leaves no spine untingled. 

Audacious dark fantasy at the cutting edge of tomorrow’s speculative fiction. 
A brave new world of imagination as only Peter Straub. Robert Bloch, 
Whitley Strieber. Ramsey Campbell. Clive Barker, and over a dozen other 
master craftsmen could explore it All new, all never-before-published short 
stories and novellas, edited with an introduction by Dennis Etchison. 


Godhody, Theodore Sturgeon, Donald I. 
Fine, Inc. SI 4.95 

Santiago, Mike Resnick, Tor, S3. 50 

Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Reinew 
Index, 1980 1984, H.W. Hall, Ed., Gale 
Research Company, SI 60.00 

The late Theodore Sturgeon was a 
man who got under your skin. He had 
various ways of doing it. When I was a 
lad on the farm, for instance, it seemed 
to me the author of “Microcosmic 
God” was an inordinately ingenious 
fellow, and that the author of such 
stories as “Largo”* had a astonishing, 
not to say heart-stopping, insight into 
the pangs of love. I thought “Killdoz- 
er” a compelling piece of suspense 
writing. And over the years, from 
time to time there’d be a new Stur- 
geon story that seemed to play upon 
a very special string ... a story which, 
likely as not, would send me off to 
stare out windows, or muse upon the 
nighted stafs, to ask myself how— 
except by some superhuman means 
—he could know so much about me. 

Well, things happened. I got older, 
and he did not. From time to time, 
our paths crossed, and although it 
was always pleasant, it was never free 
from strain. He kept discovering 
things that everyone knew all about, 
and he’d insist on discussing them. I’d 
meet a plane with him on it, and he’d 

*lt 's an obscure story, from a ZiffDatis 
pulp, probably Fantastic Adventures. / read 
it at the right age. 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

get ofif with a whole entourage of in- 
stant friends he’d acquired on the 
flight. Meanwhile, I was a good guy, 
too, but nobody was forming clubs 
around me. And the son of a bitch 
could play twelve-string guitar. 

He was not, in truth, a man free of 
faults or aggravating traits. I would not 
do him the disservice of painting him 
more gilt than he was. But he was 
uncommon, as human beings go, and 
he tried to do humanity various ser- 
vices. Perhaps this arose out of the 
conviction that it was a duty particu- 
larly incumbent on those whom hu- 
manity had systematically maltreated 
during their early days and might not 
yet be quits with. Sturgeon had it 
rough as a kid; rough enough to pro- 
duce psychosis in most people. Like a 
few such victims, he did not turn 
criminal, but rather into that un- 
named sort which is actively uncrim- 
inal. A saint? Oh, no. But in another 
country’ they used to say of Willie 
Mays, and Babe Ruth, and a few oth- 
ers, that they belonged in a higher 
league. As people go, the same was 
true of Sturgeon, and if he would only 
show the good grace to go quietly, 
we could all relax a little. 

In the late years of his career, he 
wrote very little that was published. 
And in truth if he were still alive, 
Godbody would still be unpublished. 
It’s not finished, although the book 
contains an ending. You can see the 
places where it’s not finished. He 
was, as he sometimes did all his life. 

and as he invariably did late in it, bit- 
ing off more than he could chew. 
What he couldn’t bring himself to do 
was release it anyway, into a world 
where many of us are heartily sick of 
writing that rounds off because it 
isn’t about anything that would make 
roundness difficult to achieve. 

Godbody is a very short book, in 
two senses. One, it only has about 

*This is meant poetically . Literally, ! mean 
in another context. ’ but that is not ex- 
actly the feeling / meant to convey. I 
make this explication because people from 
Mensa read this column. (A few months 
ago, I did a little jape about Mensa, an 
organization to which / stopped paying 
my dues a couple of years ago. Sure 
enough, I got several letters carefully ex- 
plaining what Mensa is, literally, and, c/o 
F&SF, some recruiting literature for this 
organization of unusually perceptive per- 

Let me, while I'm at it, explain how I 
got into Mensa. Theodore R. Cogsu^ll, 
Brig. Gen., U.S. Army Podiatric Corps, 
(Ret.), as well as Vicar-General of the 
Order of Saint Asimov the Mute, one day 
recommended me for membership, I dis- 
covered upon opening my mail. Grinning 
like a fool, anticipating that Cogswell 
had afoot some scheme parallel to, for 
instance, his Institute for Twenty-First 
Century Studies, I wrote the answers on 
my cuff and took the necessary test. In 
due course, I received my membership. 
"O.K., Cogswell, " / ivrote my old friend, 
I'm in. What’s the joke going to be and 
what are my instructions?" “/ don't un- 
derstand this, " my old friend wrote back. 
‘7 never recommend anyone / think will 
make it. " 


1 40 pages of story text. Two, you can 
read it easily in one sitting, which is 
probably inescapable anyway. It will 
grab you, hold you, and conduct you 
through a scries of confrontations 
with thought. You will come out the 
other side a different person — or, 
rather, you will have discovered things 
that were always there in you, proba- 
bly much to your surprise. 

It is interesting to me that Donald 
I. Fine, Inc., has done so many good 
things with this book. They didn't set 
it in extra-large type or design the 
pages to make it look like more than 
the good, slim volume it is. By today's 
standards, too, the price is right. And 
they have given it an Afterword by 
Stephen R. Donaldson, which turns 
out to be a perfectly reasonable, co- 
gent and valuable way in which to 
add words to the book. 

The biggest thing they did right 
was make Robert Silverberg an acqui- 
sitions editor for them. (Search the 
book thoroughly enough, and you 
will find that they have given him his 
own imprint, and that there's obvi- 
ously some sort of promotional effort 
afoot in connection with it, but it's a 
remarkably shy one.) It was Silver- 
berg who brought this book to Fine, 
and it was he who also obtained a 
lengthy and excellent Robert A. Hein- 
lein introduction for it. 

Now, the thing is that Heinlein is 
certainly the most prominent SF writ- 
er to have written at least one novel 
treating with the basic impulse to- 

2 ( 

ward religion, but he has been joined 
in that respect by Arthur C. Clarke, 
Frank Herbert, Damon Knight, and 
many others from the universe of 
American-originated newsstand-bome 
SF. If we begin reaching out toward 
H.G. Wells, Jack London, Olaf Sta- 
pledon and, of course, C.S. Lewis, we 
begin piling up quite a library. Then 
there is the quiet Roman Catholicism 
of Gene Wolfe, whose writing does 
not so much speak of religion as it 
does follow a developed morality, 
and at that point I begin to realize 
two things: One, that SF must be by 
its nature profoundly religious in 
some sense, and, two, that it is not 
enough to simply discover this large 
topic. It is necessary to treat with it, 
and, it being large, to treat with it 
patiently and bit by bit as opportunity 
arises. The opportunity we have here 
is to discuss messianism, and in that 
respect Godhody stands besides 
Knight's The Man in The Tree and 
Heinlein’s Stranger in A Strange 
Land, for just two. (Any more metic- 
ulous critic could find scores. I'm 
sure. ) 

Messianism deals with humanity's 
impulse to personify ... to take its 
philosophy, or its faith, or its ecstasy, 
from some singled-out individual, in 
preference to performing some ab- 
stract interaction with a series of in- 
tellectual propositions. A messiah is a 
terrible figure; he — I am unaware of 
any female messiahs — says that the 
world is governed by principles you 

Fantasy & Science Fiction 

have been ignoring; he stands before 
you and works miracles in irrefutable 
evidence that there is, somewhere, a 
source of extraordinary beings and 
powers; he communicates simply and 
directly to some neglected but ex- 
traordinarily powerful hope within 
you, and he pays no heed to diplo- 
macy. It*s no wonder he has to be 
killed, and it’s no wonder SF writers 
have not been able to leave religion 
alone; SF is per se messianic. Weakly 
messianic, it would appear, for its 
“proofs” are, after all, events within 
“stories” — that is, they are adver- 
tised as fictional concoctions. 

But SF is clearly messianic enough. 
It is no longer reasonable to be sur- 
prised when the next major writer, in 
the fullness of a career, tackles this 
theme; no longer possible to separate 
SF from the “horror genre,” where 
the whole concern is with power and 
ethics, their source, nature and ab- 
negation. Finally, it’s not at all sur- 
prising, really, that an SF writer should 
have founded a world-wide religion 
in which millions find workable solu- 
tions to mundane problems and assu- 
rance of a fruitful afterlife. We want 
to remember that not only did L. Ron 
Hubbard found Scientology, he did so 
only after increasingly impatient pes- 
tering from John W. Campbell, Jr. It’s 
not clear that there is in fact a cause- 
and-effect sequence there, but Camp- 
bell’s is clearly a name to add to these 
rosters, if for no other reason then 
because of his lifelong grapple with 

religious conviction under the guise 
of atheism, a process also undergone 
in roughly the same way by James 
Blish, come to think of it, and Blish 
was Damon Knight’s close friend. 

Which brings us to Godbody, and 
high time, too: 

Godbody takes the form of a series 
of first-person accounts by various 
people who encounter the mysterious 
stranger descended one fine day up- 
on their semirural environs. The first 
of these is Dan Currier, a good- 
hearted but wishy-washy Protestant 
minister, who crosses paths with a 
nude, good-looking man who may or 
may not be crowned by a circling ha- 
lo of white moths. His name is God- 
body, says the stranger, and touches 
Currier in order to find out who he 
is. This action forever energizes Cur- 
rier into a fresh regard for the world 
. . . not one imposed from outside, 
but one that has always waited within 
him, and which overcomes him so 
powerfully that it will be days before 
he even begins to be able to describe 
some of its details. But it seizes upon 
him at once, and he acts in pure faith 
that it is good — it is not only good, it 
is in any case irresistible — and it 
reminds me irresistibly of Michael 
Valentine Smith’s declaration that we 
are God ... in other words, that we 
knew it all along; we are all kings 
unwitting, and the Word shall some 
day set us free. 



That is the message, and although 
a number of persons repeat it, by dis- 
covering Godbody’s effect upon them, 
that is the sole and entire message. 
Oh, it has some details to it, but that’s 
it. It transforms Dan Currier’s mar- 
riage; it goes on to make a prince of a 
particularly slimy frog who had been 
sidling up on Liza Currier’s blind 
side, and finds him a fair damsel, too; 
it melts the flinty heart of the town 
banker, and in the end it kills God- 
body, who comments “This really is a 
hell of a way to make a living’’ and 
promises he’ll be back, which prom- 
ise he keeps, restoring a blind girl’s 

Like Godbody himself, with his 
rustic grammar and his weightless 
aphorisms about clothes and cathe- 
drals being equally superfluous, God- 
hody is an artfully artless piece of 
work. The characters are cartoons, 
but just the right cartoons, for hero 
and villain both, and their various 
juxtapositions are very delicately con- 
trived. The final few scenes are hard- 
ly finished copy at all — the one is a 
lecture on early Christianity, the oth- 
er is this rather embarrassing little 
Bernadettoid miracle. But one can 
see, as much as anyone can ever fore- 
see what Sturgeon was ever going to 
do, how another draft would have 
made the one smoother and the oth- 
er more textured. And certainly it 
would have been a monstrous indeli- 
cacy to have someone “complete” 
this work, as if it were a series of 

sausages with the last link not quite 
shaped out. 

No, Sturgeon didn’t write in 
strings, as many writers do. He wrote 
the whole thing, every time, and wrote 
the whole thing again until he had it 
right. But even at the stages in which 
we find Godbody now, it is clear 
what he intended, and it is clear that 
the intended effect takes place. Don- 
aldson’s Afterword speaks movingly 
of how this book transcends even the 
triggers built into a child of mission- 
ary parents, and Heinlein’s introduc- 
tion for some not visible but paralog- 
ical reason continually juxtaposes his 
recollections of Sturgeon with his 
recollections of Hubbard. Technical- 
ly, all Sturgeon has done is bring a 
series of witnesses to the front of the 
room and had them testify to mira- 
cles . . . oh, and he has done it in such 
a way that we fail to note they are 
fictional witnesses, and in any case 
we fail to note they couldn’t possibly 
be speaking to us. 

Mike Resnick brings us a sort of 
vest-pocket messiah, and aptly so, be- 
cause Santiago and its epomynous lead 
character are straight out of the ge- 
neric pulp tradition. To give you the 
storyline quickly, Santiago is the big- 
gest, baddest bounty hunter/pirate in 
the whole civilized galaxy, which gal- 
axy is indistinguishable from frontier 
America in the cattle-town days. San- 
tiago is a figure of legend in song and 
story, and one by one the various 


Fantasy & Science FktkMi 

gunners of lesser stripe must go up 
against him, for thereby hangs the 
gaining of the untimate rep, plus the 
acquisition of the immense price 
which weighs upon his head. 

The details of how this works out 
are spread across a great many small- 
type pages by a man who is firmly and 
assertively one of our major heirs to 
pulp writing traditions. You may take 
if from me that he will not disappoint 
you if that is what you seek from him 
and this epic of the spaceways, in 
which faster-than-light starships sub- 
stitute for the Butterfield Stage and 
Miss Kitty’s motives are not entirely 
unblemished. I kept looking for Bat 
Durston by name, and did not find 
him, but that is a very slight oversight 
with which to tax the sapient Mr. 

When you look at pulp writing, 
you eventually come to realize that 
it’s all about ethics. (So is all of fic- 
tion, but pulp lays it right out there 
on the line. ) The pulp story works on 
its readers because every action in it 
is a test of whether the actor de- 
serves what will happen to him in 
eventual consequence. Pulp tales state 
cause-and-effect plainly, and they 
make it indistinguishable from worth- 
iness-and-just-desserts. What this 
means is that if you really like pulp, 
you’ve built up quite an involvement 
with ethics, and with the great ques- 
tion of what it is that determines 
worth and judges it, and whether a 
consciousness of worth springs from 

“instinct” — that is, from something 
instilled by processes other than those 
of Mendelian heredity or Pavlovian 

The talc of the master gunfighter 
—occasionally transformed into such 
personified forces as Sam Spade or 
Philip Marlowe, and in any case deal- 
ing out justice beyond appeal — has 
gripped us for generations. 1 am not 
the first to find overtones of messian- 
ism in it, and so need not enlarge up- 
on that fact, especially since Sergio 
Leone made an ikon of Clint East- 
wood while explaining it graphically, 
and almost succeeded in evoking it 
again in Once Upon a Time in Amer- 

What I wanted to bring up here is 
that a good technical way of analyz- 
ing a pulp story is to look at its ethics. 
I think you’ll find that it succeeds or 
fails — that is, delivers emotional sat- 
isfaction — to the extent that it justi- 
fies that thing we call the Judeo- 
Christian ethic and find most power- 
ful when explicated by evangelists. 

Interesting, eh? What I suggest 
you do is read Santiago ... go ahead, 
you’ll enjoy it to at least the extent of 
13.50. And then I suggest you think 
about the religious implications of 
the ending. If you’ve already read it 
—which I imagine many of you have 
— I suggest you read it again, in the 
light of all of the above. 

What is SF, that we are mindful of 
it? Well, I have only the vaguest and 



most tendencious theories, although 
1 do know that mine right. But in 
any event there are people taking it 
seriously out there, and in token of 
that, the indefatigable Gale Research 
Company has published a weighty 
Science Fiction and Fantasy Book 
Review Index, 1980-1984. It lists in- 
numerable SF books, fiction and non- 
fiction, and tells you where you can 
find reviews of them. It also lists in- 
numerable SF authors, and tells you 
where you can find reviews of them. 
Then it lists nearly innumerable es- 
says on various aspects of SF, first by 
author and then by subject. It has, in 
other words, got a lock on the foren- 
sics of those four years in SF. And it is 
part of a series including annual vol- 
umes. Sure, it’s steep at SI 60. Doing 
the work wasn’t easy for editor H.W. 
Hall, or for his associate, Geraldine L. 
Hutchins, who did the SF research 
index. More to the point, getting it all 
(nearly) straight was a lot of work for 
Gale Research, and then there’s the 
fact that not too many people are go- 
ing to buy this volume. But those 
who do need it need it a lot, and will 
be getting a lot back. 

I cannot imagine a more informa- 
tive single work of reference for SF 
scholar and serious afficionado. This 
is a key into a vast domain, and you 
can put that on the cover of the next 

I was touched when, two weeks 
before this writing, 1 learned some- 

thing of mine had won the Locus 
Magazine poll for the best non-fiction 
book of 1985. The book was, to give 
it its formal title. Benchmarks: Gal- 
axy Bookshelf by Algis Budrys, and it 
reprinted all my review columns for 
the “Galaxy Bookshelf’ feature in 
Galaxy Magazine. 

Well, I was going to write a letter 
of thanks for publication in Locus, 
but was told that would seem tacky 
and self-serving. O.K., I would like 
here to thank all those Locus readers 
who are also F&SF readers and who 
voted in the poll. And I would like to 
tell all of you that even before this 
signal event, Southern Illinois Uni- 
versity Press had been sufficiently 
pleased with the performance of that 
first book so that they offered me a 
contract on another one. 

This next one will begin reprint- 
ing my F&SF columns, and it will be 
out some time in late 1987, I imag- 
ine. It will* be called by some varia- 
tion of Benchmarks, and it will be 
the usual labor of love, with my wife 
doing the Xeroxes, me doing the cut- 
ting, pasting, copy-editing and index- 
ing, and some pair of my friends 
dragged in to do the introductory 
material, as Frederik Pohl and Cath- 
erine McClenahan were last time. I 
am hoping that one of them this time 
is Edward Ferman — Ed, this is your 
formal invitation — and in any event I 
want to thank all of you, whatever 
else you read, for having made this 
book necessary. 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

Reg Bretnor’s new story introduces a team of parapsychologists 
led by Chief Sam — Colonel Samuel Warhorse — on the trail of 
the cause behind a series of Fortean events: everything from fly- 
ing elephants to disappearing buses . . . 

Ultimate Weapon 



I n Moscow, Ilya Ivanovitch Kula- 
gin stood outside the KGB's Butyrka 
Prison, where his wife, mother of his 
four children, was being held prior to 
being transported to an unnamed des- 
tination to serve her twenty-year sen- 
tence for the illegal possession of 
American currency. They had thrown 
him out when he asked to say good- 
bye to her, and even as the iron gates 
closed behind him he knew that prob- 
ably he would never see her again. 
Rage boiled within him as he walked 
away. Half a block down the street, 
tears coursing down his cheeks, he 
turned and shook a futile fist at the 
dark prison and the comfortable 
apartment house, occupied by over- 
indulged KGB personnel, that 
masked it. Abruptly he lost all con- 
trol. Pointing at the apartments, stab- 
bing the air with an accusing finger, 
he shouted, “Curse you! Curse all of 

you! Whelps of the devil! Burn! Bum! 
Bum! May God smite you! Bum! Fall 
in mins! Let everything in you be de- 
stroyed! NOWr he screamed. 

There was a strange moment of 
total silence. Then, with no warning, 
first five, then ten, then scores of 
windows in the building burst out- 
ward; flames spurted from them; 
smoke poured out of them. Screams 
reached his ears, cries of agony. The 
building now was a mass of flames, 
and it was shaking. Even as he stood 
there watching it, the building start- 
ed to come apart. First its sides gave 
way; then he heard crashes from its 
center. In minutes, almost before the 
first sounds of the approaching fire 
brigade reached his ears, the apart- 
ment house had been reduced to a 
heap of fiercely flaming mbble. 

Ilya Ivanovitch watched it dumb- 
founded. He looked at the pointing 

Uhiinatc Weapon 


finger, which, he knew, had brought 
it down. "'Godr he told himself. 
“They say there is no God, but God 
has given me power over them.” He 
thought of striking at the Kremlin, 
decided not to because it was a part 
of ancient Russia. Slowly he made his 
way to a subway station and took the 
train to his own district. It was hard 
to think, hard to know what to do. 
Such a tremendous responsibility! He 
needed a drink or two to clear his 
brain. He went to a favorite tavern 
and found one or two acquaintances 
already there. He had one drink, two. 
After the fifth, he decided he must 
share his secret with others who, like 
himself, were the oppressed. He 
boasted to them of what he had done 
to the apartment house, and found 
that somehow word of the burning 
had already reached them. They 
laughed at him. He repeated every- 
thing in dramatic detail. 

It took the KGB less than three 
minutes to get there. “Bastards!” he 
screeched at them. “Turds! Bum like 
your families! Diet Bumr 

His finger stabbed the air — and 
nothing happened. Very shortly af- 
terward he was in an interrogation 
cell at the infamous Lefortovo Prison, 
and we need not concern ourselves 
with what happened to him there. 

In Calcutta, Indir Ghosh, a popu- 
lar holy man, was sitting serenely on 
the sidewalk of a main street, watch- 
ing a religious procession led by sev- 

eral highly decorated elephants. He 
closed his eyes meditatively, contem- 
plating the massive dignity of the 
animals. “What a wonderful thing it 
would be,” he murmured, “if they 
could fly.” And in his mind’s eye, he 
saw them rise into the air, their ma- 
houts and their passengers suddenly 
the members of an undreamed-of pan- 

Screams and shouts shattered his 
reverie — the screams of women and 
children, the screech of brakes. His 
eyes opened. There were no ele- 
phants to be seen. Automatically he 
looked up. They had risen perhaps 
two hundred feet. They stayed there 
for a full minute, squealing in terror. 
Then they fell, and as elephants are 
not equipped with landing gear, the 
carnage was appalling. Police and sol- 
diers finally came and destroyed those 
beasts who had not been killed out- 
right, bearing away the dead and in- 
jured and spending some hours tidy- 
ing up the street. One of the largest 
elephants had fallen directly on Indir 
himself, and only one smM boy had 
heard his murmur and remembered 

In Tokyo a bank officer named 
Heihachiro Nakayama was lying hap- 
pily in bed with a lovely geisha whose 
patron he had recently become. He 
was looking admiringly at her classic 
profile in the soft light filtering 
through the shoji, and was thinking 
idly what a pleasant life he would 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

have if some obliging demon, say a 
fox or badger, would rid him of his 
shrewish wife and her — not his— 
two always troublesome children. He 
giggled as he imagined fanged bake- 
mono foxes chasing Hideko and the 
brats around the house and finally 
catching them. However, his mind 
was soon diverted as his hand crept 
up the geisha’s silken thigh, and after 
they had made love twice again, he 
promptly went to sleep. He thought 
no more about it until the following 
afternoon, when he came home and 
found what had happened to his fami- 
ly. First he went to a nearby Buddhist 
monastery and confessed everything 
to the prior, a very sensible man who 
advised him to seek out a good psy- 
chiatrist. After that he wandered 
through the streets for hours before 
returning home, wrote a rambling 
and scarcely decipherable account of 
what he, in his wickedness, had done, 
and finally threw himself in front of a 
hundred-and-fifty mile-an-hour train. 
The account found its way into a 
highly sensational tabloid, and was 
eventually translated into English, but 
hardly anybody paid any attention to 

In northern Arizona a bus carry- 
ing forty-seven men, women, and chil- 
dren left the small town of Ashfork 
bound for Prescott, an hour and a 
half s run south. It passed through a 
wide spot in the road named Chino 
Valley, twenty miles from its destina- 

tion, right on schedule. Then, in full 
view of more than a score of ordi- 
nary, sober citizens, it suddenly was 
no longer there. It wasn’t anywhere; 
and where it had been, there was on- 
ly a slowly dissipating cloud of bone- 
gray dust. There were no clues. The 
police learned that among the ob- 
servers, there was a girl whom the 
bus driver, one Alec Moreno, had 
made pregnant, and whom he had re- 
fused to marry, but there had been no 
way to link that to the disappearance. 

Those were the first four cases I 
glanced at, and the list Chief Sam— 
Colonel Samuel Warhorse — had giv- 
en me ran into thirty or forty or more 
pages. 1 skimmed over it. Charles Fort 
would have been delighted. A grand 
piano had suddenly appeared in a 
municipal swimming pool, where on- 
ly swimmers had been a moment 
previously. A very fat old lady, naked 
in her tub, had found herself splash- 
ing, not in water, but in small, wet, 
live fish. A military pilot, a major with 
fifteen years of service, flying at 
twelve thousand feet, had seen his 
craft dissolve around him; luckily his 
parachute had remained intact, so he 
had lived to tell of it — and to spend 
days trying to answer the questions 
they kept throwing at him. There had 
been appearances and disappear- 
ances. Things had blown up for no 
reason; other things, similarly, had 
suddenly imploded. Four highjackers, 
armed to the teeth and having a fine 

Ultiinate Weapon 


time terrorizing a jet’s passengers and 
crew, had — with no one even realiz- 
ing what had happened — fallen mess- 
ily to the floor with their throats slit 
from ear to ear. 

I’d first met Chief Sam during the 
Vietnam War, where he was an army 
shrink doing his thing at a Saigon 
hospital. 1 was a fly-boy, a chopper 
pilot. My problem had been simple. 1 
always knew ahead of time when any- 
body in my outfit was going to get 
cancelled out — always. It was espe- 
cially bad because 1 couldn’t do any- 
thing about it. How do you go to a 
fine young warrant officer and tell 
him to refuse duty or goldbrick out 
because Charlie was going to get 
him? I’d come down for a routine 
physical, and before 1 knew it, Colo- 
nel Sam and I had had several talks, 
and he’d convinced me to accept it. 
Eventually he recruited me for The 
Team, which may or may not be part 
of the armed forces, just as he himself 
may or may not now be a colonel. It 
consists entirely of people like me, 
people who have an unusual but use- 
ful talent — my lovely half-Japanese 
wife, for instance, who is so delicate- 
ly tuned an empath that simply driv- 
ing by a prison or a slaughterhouse, 
or even a hospital, is an ordeal for 
her. And The Team has kept going. 
It’s based, more or less, in Colorado, 
because that's where Chief Sam lives, 
so most of us are in or around a min- 
ing town called Cinnabar, just big 
enough to hold the federal agencies 

that give us our cover jobs, and where 
we’re close when he needs us. Hush- 
hush? Yes — so much so that quite a 
few of us don’t even know The Team 
exists. Even 1 might not if it weren’t 
for the fact that I am, again more or 
less, its second-in-command. 

He’s a remarkable man. Chief Sam. 
He’s tall and broad, with black eye- 
brows like Sequoya’s and thick gray 
hair. He’s a psychiatrist and a para- 
psychologist and a lover of opera and 
chamber music. He is also a medicine 
chief of his own Osage Nation, and 
regularly goes back to Oklahoma to 
take part in tribal doings. His mind 
has made room for both cultures, just 
as it has for any number of languages. 

He phoned me that morning. “Can 
you come on over, Garry?’’ he asked. 
“We’re onto something really inter- 

I drove over immediately, to the 
familiar office in his mountain home, 
and he seated me by his huge desk. 
“Here it is.’’ He handed me the list, 
and said nothing more till I’d looked 
it over. Then: “Well, what do you 
make of it?’’ he asked. 

“It’s the sort of stuff Charles Fort’s 
books were full of, isn’t it? Impossi- 
ble things that happen, then get clev- 
erly explained away, then forgotten. 
The only thing really unusual, it seems 
to me, is that in the whole list only 
two dates get mentioned. Do you 
really mean all this happened just on 
those two days?’’ 

He shook his head. “Not two days. 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

Garry. Two dates, but not two days. 
Some are from one side of the inter- 
national dateline, some from the oth- 
er, and those from the day side out- 
number the night ones. But that's not 
all. Every event listed — and as you’ve 
probably noticed, they’re all wit- 
nessed and attested to — every one 
of them took place at exactly the 
same time, roughly two minutes start- 
ing at, say 1:51 P.M. here, 2:51 P.M. 
there, 10:51 P.M. someplace else, and 
3:51 A.M. somewhere on the other 
side of the date line. While those ele- 
phants were taking their little flight 
over Calcutta, Gospodin Kulagin was 
burning down the Butyrka Prison 
apartment house and that bus was 
vanishing in Arizona — and all the 
rest as well. What does that say to 

”We-e-ell — ” I hesitated, frown- 
ing. ”It says that all of a sudden a hell 
of a lot of people with dormant tal- 
ents — and awfully strong ones— 
were able to exercise them without 
knowing it — simultaneously.'" 


“And that means that — that some- 
thing, somehow, enabled them to do 

“Garry, I know it’s hard to swal- 
low — I’ve swallowed it. Those tal- 
ents — even the limited ones The 
Team has — are rare. When they 
aren’t nonexistent, they’re usually 
rigidly suppressed. Therefore, isn’t 
there one more corollary?” 

“Colonel Sam,” I said, “There is. 

but it’s even tougher to accept: that 
the suppression isn’t accidental, that 
for all man’s history something has 
deliberately acted to hold the power 
of our minds in check.” 

“Except for occasional apparent 

“Except for those — and maybe it 
doesn’t always work on minds that 
are a bit defective; so that half- 
retarded teenagers can come up with 
poltergeists, and lunatics with verid- 
ical prophecies.” 

‘Tes, and very great and holy per- 
sonages with miracles like — oh, let’s 
say loaves and fishes, or the raising of 
the dead.” 

“It’s all too logical for comfort,” I 
told him. 

“Yes,” he answered, “and there’s 
one more little point I haven’t men- 
tioned, which you may have noticed. 
Every episode on that list occurred in 
the Northern Hemisphere. There have 
been no reports from south of the 
equator. Therefore, I think we safely 
can assume that there are two such 
centers of influence working on our 
minds, and that each has one hemis- 
phere as its area.” 

“But what are they?” 

“Beings? Devices? Minds? Who 
knows? But whatever they are, since 
we’ve deduced that they exist, very 
possibly others may, too; and in the 
world as we know it, considering the 
power they restrict, it behooves us to 
get there first. There are plenty of 
people in the world who’d see this as 

Uhiiiuite Weapon 


the ultimate weapon — all they’d 
have to do is get ahold of it, leam 
what makes it work, and have it doing 
tricks for them. I wouldn’t want it to 
get into the hands of anyone like the 
late Ayatollah, or the boys in the 

I shuddered. “Strikes me that mon- 
keying with anything like that could 
be downright dangerous. It looks like 
the human race, or anyhow a lot of 
us, are a time bomb just waiting to go 
off. Wouldn’t anybody figure that?” 

“No, I don’t think so, Garry. Sane 
people would, but those who are 
dead certain they have God working 
for them, or the Laws of History- 
well, at least some would be sure 
they were smart enough to manage 

“And so?” I said. 

“So we go after it ourselves, you 
and me and maybe one or two others. 
As far as anybody else is concerned 
—and, with one exception, I mean 
anybody, we’ll be a hush-hush scien- 
tific expedition, complete with im- 
pressive instruments and everything, 
looking for something mysterious in 
the ice.” 

“You mean we’re going up near 
the North Pole?” 

Somewhere,"' said Chief Sam. 
“The North Pole, or the North Mag- 
netic Pole, or wherever. We don’t 
know the laws that govern it, so it 
may be pretty much anywhere — any- 
where it can cover the Northern Hem- 
isphere. It could be in orbit, though if 

that were the case, chances are it’d 
have been spotted by this time, or 
underground, or below the surface of 
the sea. Luckily we’ve got a girl who 
probably can tell us.” 

“Somebody on The Team?” 

He nodded. “Just recently. I found 
her in Virginia. Her name’s Veronica 

I laughed. “She sounds straight 
out of a Gothic.” 

Chief Sam didn’t laugh. “She is, 
Garry, she is. Wait till you meet her. 
But she’s the finest dowser I’ve ever 
run across, and that includes some of 
the guys who were finding land mines 
for the marines back in ’Nam. Usually 
all you have to do is tell her what you 
want to find, and she’ll pretty much 
pinpoint it. All she needs is a good 
map. We’ll go visit her as soon as 
we’re through with Mother Burton.” 

“Mother Burton? Why?” 

Mother Burton was a weird old 
Gypsy. She and her daughter, who 
was just as weird, lived in an ancient 
mobile home along the highway about 
thirty miles north of Cinnabar, and 
they told fortunes every which way. 
Chief Sam thouglit a lot of her, but I’d 
never been able to figure out wheth- 
er her talent was for real — maybe 
because she was such a terrible bore. 
She never got tired of bragging how 
she was an English Gypsy, and how 
she’d cast the runes for everybody 
from Churchill to Maggie Thatcher, 
to say nothing of almost the whole 
House of Lords, and how an ancestor 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

of hers had told Isobel Arundel she 
was destined to marry a man with the 
same name as her tribe’s, who turned 
out to be Sir Richard Burton. 

“Why?” Chief Sam chuckled. “Be- 
cause you’re going to have your for- 
tune told. Remember? You’ve always 
known if someone with you is going 
to get hurt or killed, but you’ve never 
foreseen anything about yourself— 
not even that time you skidded on 
the ice and broke your arm. And on 
this expedition I’d just as soon the 
old lady gave yoii a clean bill. After 
all, you’ve going to help fly the chop- 

Somehow, though I realized we’d 
be heading up into the Arctic, I hadn’t 
anticipated getting quite so intimate 
with it. 

“Colonel,” I said, “I’m shivering 
already. A chopper doesn’t put much 
between you and the great outdoors.” 

“Don’t worry,” he said sweetly. 
“We’ll keep you as warm as toast.” 

I hadn’t seen Mother Burton for a 
year or more, but she hadn’t changed 
a bit. She had the same wrinkles; 
same bright, beady eyes; and all the 
stage-gypsy trappings: gaudy skirts 
and scarves and — God help me! — a 
chain of Krugerrands that would have 
made me worry for her if I hadn’t 
known that when she told a stranger’s 
fortune, her daughter would be be- 
hind the door into the kitchen right 
next to their loaded riot gun. Be- 
sides, if you’re worth your salt as a 

fortune-teller, you ought to be able 
to feel when someone is fixing to rip 
you off. 

Anyhow, both she and her daugh- 
ter gave me the works: palms, tea 
leaves, crystal ball. Mother Burton 
gossiping all the time daughter was 
working and daughter doing her best 
to shush her. 

“I see you going on a journey, a 
long journey, you brave young man!” 
she finally told me. “So does my 
daughter — what’s that, Maysie? 
Didn’t I say a long, cold journey? 
You’re going with Mr. Sam here him- 
self, and — yes, I see another man, a 
great big man in uniform — or maybe 
he ain’t wearing it? — and you got 
two-three ladies with you, only one 
of ’em has something wrong with 
her. Lord God, it’s cold where you’re 
going! And it’s real fiinny — why do I 
keep thinking about Santa Claus?” 

“Tell me, Ma,” Chief Sam said, 
“will Garry be coming back all in one 

She nodded, pecking with her head 
like a determined bird. “There’s 
something I can’t understand up 
where you’re going, something pret- 
ty scary, and I get the notion of things 
happening to people, nasty things, 
but not to you — nor to the ladies 
you’re with. Seems like maybe it was 
far off, but 1 ain’t sure.” 

“Do you see any other people up 
there except us?” 

She frowned. “Puzzles me,” she 
said. “I do and yet I don’t. I get the 

Uhiiiuite Weapon 


smell, sort of, of foreigners. Could 
there be foreigners up there, maybe 
after something?” 

‘‘There could indeed,” Chief Sam 
told her. 

After that, she couldn't seem to 
come up with much more informa- 
tion, neither she nor daughter, so we 
thanked her and drove home again. 

‘‘Well, that makes me feel better,” 
Sam assured me. 

‘‘Me too,” I answered, ‘‘but I don't 
know that it’ll make me feel any 
warmer. And now what do we do, 
take off to see your girlfriend in Vir- 

‘‘She’s not in Virginia, not any 
longer. I’ve brought her out to Ruys- 
dale. She’s staying with Amy Hamp- 
ton, at least for the time being.” 

I’d worked with Amy several times. 
She had two talents: one for diagnosis 
—not just physical ailments, but also 
true states of mind, no matter how 
dissembled; the other, not really pow- 
erful, for PK. She was cheerful, bux- 
om, middle-aged, thoroughly depend- 

‘‘On the way. I’d like to swing by 
Cinnabar,” Chief Sam went on, “and 
pick your wife up. I’ve a hunch we’ll 
need her, and I’d like to see how she 
reacts to Veronica. O.K.?” 

Marina’s very fond of him and 
trusts him implicitly, so I just 

On the way, he filled me in on 
how he had it figured out. ‘‘Chances 
are,” he said, ‘‘that we won’t have to 

worry about anybody but the Rus- 
sians. That’s not dead certain, but 
they’ve been spending all sorts of ru- 
bles on psi research for years now— 
more than we ever have. So if they’ve 
tumbled to the situation, they’ll have 
people who can maybe do something 
about it. Besides that, geographically 
they can get as close to the action as 
we can. However, they’ll have one big 
disadvantage. Everything out of their 
research has to fit into Old Man 
Marx’s nineteenth-century picture of 
how and why — doctrinaire material- 
ism — and there are a great many 
phenomena that not only don’t fit but 
positively contradict it. Furthermore, 
1 can’t imagine them mounting an 
expedition as important as this with- 
out having some KGB types along, 
and that’s not going to help their sen- 
sitives at all.” 

‘‘What’ll we do if we run into 

‘‘I don’t rightly know, Garry.” He 
frowned. ‘‘Mother Burton was pretty 
sure we’re going to survive, and when 
she’s serious she's usually around 95 
percent right. As for self-defense 
measures and stuff like that, let’s hope 
they won’t be necessary. Anyhow, we 
can’t do any detailed planning till we 
know more about whatever it is we’re 
looking for, and even then we’ll prob- 
ably have to play the whole thing by 

Somehow, just listening to his deep 
voice discussing it reassured me— 
after all, he’d never muffed any of the 


Fantasy A Science Fiction 

missions we’d carried out together. 
The rest of the way, he talked about 
such practical considerations as what 
we might expect from recon satel- 
lites — ours and theirs. And we both 
speculated on who or what might 
have installed the Monitor — we’d al- 
ready .given it the name — and how 
far in the past they’d done it. He 
summed it up succinctly. “There are 
three possibilities,’’ he said. “First, 
aliens from outer space, buzzing 
around in flying saucers or whatever 
maybe a million years ago, wise 
enough to recognize our potentials 
for development and destruction, and 
nice enough not to wipe us out; next, 
some sort of Secret Ascended Mas- 
ters who’re still around — though 
that seems the least probable; and fi- 
nally some really ancient race.’’ 

“I can’t think of any with that kind 
of know-how,’’ I objected. 

“Not on our historical scale, per- 
haps, but how about earlier — much 
earlier? A race with no surviving ruins? 
People who disappeared without a 
trace? Think how many tribes and na- 
tions have their legends of the Old 
Ones. And remember what the Lord 
said in Genesis: Be fruitful and mul- 
tiply and replenish the Earth. That 
replenish is an interesting word, Gar- 
ry. Maybe it wasn’t accidental. Who 
knows how maily cataclysms — shift- 
ing poles, suddenly surging oceans-* 
may have wiped the world clean of 
advanced life? Anyhow, we don’t know 
who put it there, and maybe we never 

will. But it is there, and we know 
what it’s doing there, and for the 
moment that’s all-important.’’ 

1 phoned Marina along the way, 
and when we reached Cinnabar she 
was ready and waiting for us. Her 
Aunt Tomiko had been living with us 
since the first of our two kids was 
bom, so there was no problem there. 
She got into the front seat between 
Sam and me, beautiful and fragile and 
bright and golden and tough as a 
bowstring despite her sensitivity. She 
kissed Sam’s ear, patted me on the 
knee, and said, “What’s in the wind? 
Can you let me in on it?’’ 

Sam told her, and she listened 
without interrupting, but when he’d 
finished she frowned a little and said, 
“Wouldn’t something like that, some- 
thing as important as that, created by 
someone probably far, far more ad- 
vanced than we — well, wouldn’t it 
have some built-in defenses of its 
own? Probably pretty effective ones?’’ 

I hadn’t even thought of that pos- 
sibility, and Chief Sam hadn’t men- 
tioned it. Keeping his eyes on the 
road, he nodded gravely. “Chances 
are it has. That’s certainly something 
we’ll have to keep in mind. But if it 
does have, maybe it also has some 
way of separating the sheep from the 
goats — those who are a danger to it 
from those who aren’t.’’ 

“Do you think this woman we’re 
going to see can tell us?’’ 

“Marina dear, perhaps she can. 

Ultimate Weapon 


She*s a dowser, meaning she can lo- 
cate things, sometimes using a pen- 
dulum, sometimes not. As 1 told Gar- 
ry, all she needs is a good map. But 
she not only can find things — some- 
times she can even tell what those 
things are, and that’s what I’m hoping 
for in this case. But I’m not going to 
tell you any more about her. I want 
you to meet her with no preconcep- 
tions, so don’t judge her by her Ro- 
mantic Revival name. 1 want to know 
exactly how you feel about her.” 

‘‘She’s new to us, isn’t she?” 

‘‘Very new. It’s been less than 
three weeks since I persuaded her to 
move out here and work with us.” 

Ruysdale is about twenty-five miles 
from Cinnabar, in the opposite direc- 
tion from Mother Burton’s, and it 
didn’t take us long to get there— 
Chief Sam isn’t a slow driver. Amy 
Hampton’s little house was only a few 
blocks from where we entered the 
town, and Amy, tipped off by Sam, had 
taken time off from her library job 
and was waiting for us at the door. 

She waited while Sam brought a 
map case out of the back seat, then 
hugged us all and, talking a blue 
streak, chivied us into the living 
room. ‘‘Now just you-all sit down,” 
she said. ‘‘I’ve got coffee and snacks 
all fixed — just have to bring them in. 
That over there — ” She pointed to a 
tall, straight-back chair by the fire- 
place, upholstered in a muted, glow- 
ing green. ‘‘— that’s Veronica’s. You 
can sit anywhere else you please. My 

lady’ll be out in just a minute.” 

"*My Lady?' I thought, and ex- 
changed glances with Marina. And 
yet there had been no sarcasm be- 
hind the words, only affection. 

‘‘Veronica!” she called. “Veroni- 
ca, company’s here!” 

There was no reply, but a few sec- 
onds later we heard steps in the little 
corridor leading to the bedrooms. 
Then, very suddenly, Veronica Lang- 
muir was there, and I saw what Chief 
Sam had meant by saying that she 
really was straight out of a Gothic. 
She was very tall, nearly six feet, but 
she did not stoop like so many tall 
women do, and she was beautiful 
with a snow-blonde Northern beauty 
seldom seen except in dreams or 
dreamlike illustrations. She stood 
there, and her face surveyed the room 
—not her eyes. I realized with a shock; 
her face. Her eyes were light, a very 
light greenish blue, and 1 saw instant- 
ly that she was blind, totally blind. 
She was wearing a housecoat — I 
suppose it was — with a high collar 
and puffled sleeves, and all as warmly 
yellow as a newly opened daffodil. 
Around her neck she wore a string of 

“Colonel Warhorse,” she said, and 
her voice was as beautiful as she her- 
self, “Amy told me you were on your 
way. I am so glad to see you, and your 
friends — my colleagues now? Let’s 
see, Douglas Garrioch is one of them, 
I know, and there’s someone charm- 
ing with him. I can sense her.” 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

“That’s Marina. That’s my wife,” I 

“Marina is a lovely name,” she 
said. “And now I’d like to see you the 
only way I can, with my fingertips. 
You don’t mind, do you?” 

“Of course not!” cried Marina, 
stepping up to her. “Come, Garry.” 

Her long cool fingers touched our 
cheeks. “Nice, nicer she murmured. 
“Oh, I’m so happy that you came.” 

I realized that she had developed 
many talents, many senses, to make 
up for her lack of vision. 

She moved unerringly to the high- 
backed chair and seated herself as if 
were a throne. “We can start when- 
ever you want to,” she said. “We can 
use the card table.” 

Amy brought it out and set it on 
its legs. Chief Sam opened his map 
case, removed its contents, and spread 
the topmost chart on the table. It 
showed the very top of the world. 

Veronica touched it very lightly 
with her left hand. “Everything feels 
white,” she said. “Almost everything. 
No, it’s not like other maps.” From 
her housecoat’s pocket she had taken 
a pointed crystal pendulum on a silver 
chain, and now her hovering right 
hand began to move slowly across 
the surface of the chart, holding the 
crystal an inch or so above its surface. 
“Colonel Warhorse.” she asked, “can 
you tell me what I’m supposed to be 
searching for?” 

“I can’t exactly,” he replied. “All I 
can tell you is what we think it does. 

It is something fashioned, probably 
long, long ago, by beings about whom 
we know nothing, and it has power 
—power to suppress those rare tal- 
ents our own Team employs in a 
small way. Is that enough? Later I’ll 
tell you more.” 

“It is enough, I think.” 

She leaned forward, her expres- 
sion suddenly intense. “Yes-s-s,” she 
whispered. “Yes.” 

The pendulum quivered. Abruptly 
it moved across the surface of the 
chart, the surface of the frozen polar 
sea, and her hand followed it. It 
passed true north, swerved round, 
began a slow movement toward Bat- 
hurst Island and the magnetic pole, 
then reversed itself and, much more 
rapidly, crossed almost to the north 
Alaskan coast near Point Barrow, then 
back toward true north again — a 
hundred miles, two hundred, and a 
hundred more. Halfway, and almost 
equidistant from Alaska and the Si- 
berian coast, it hesitated, stopped 
dead, still quivering. Slowly, very 
slowly, it began describing a figure 
eight — or was it the symbol of 

Veronica put her elbows on the 
chart and steepled her fingers trying 
to steady it. “How very strange!” she 
exclaimed. “It’s never been like this 
before. It just won’t come any closer. 
Do you have a larger-scale map?” 

“Yes, I do,” Chief Sam told her. 
“But couldn’t we do better with sat- 
ellite or aerial photos?” 

Ultimate Weapon 


She shook her head. **I can’t work 
with them. They just don’t tell me any- 
thing. I don’t know why.” 

He changed charts, making sure 
the coordinates were aligned — and 
the pendulum simply continued its 
strange, sweeping figure-eight move- 
ment, on a greater scale, more vio- 

‘‘That — that’s a little better,” she 
said. ‘‘I — 1 can feel it, whatever’s 
there.” For a long moment she was 
silent, brow furrowing. ‘‘I can feel it, 
but I don’t understand it. It — it’s as 
though it were alive somehow — and 
yet not truly. But it’s not a machine, 
no. And I can sense the power in it. 
But ~ but there’s something wrong. 
If 1 were sure it was alive. I’d say it 
was — well, somehow distressed, ter- 
ribly, terribly distressed. But I don’t 
think it’s alive, not really, the way we 
are. At least, its body isn’t.” She 
laughed, a bit hysterically. ‘‘Oh dear! 
What does that mean?” 

‘‘It could mean,” Chief Sam said 
gently, ‘‘that its body never was alive, 
but that its spirit lives — which would 
pose a nice quandary for our Russian 

From the map case, he had taken a 
flat portfolio of photographs, select- 
ing one; and peering over his shoul- 
der, 1 saw that it was white, white, 
white — but it showed no smooth 
sea of snow, not this. For ages 
the pack ice had been pushed and 
crushed. It was scarped, hum- 
mocked, pressure-ridged. The coor- 

dinates told me that it showed the 
area over which the pendulum still 
did its erratic dance, but there was 
nothing to distinguish it from its sur- 

‘‘Can you calm it down a little, Ver- 
onica? Can we pinpoint it more close- 

‘‘I — I simply can’t,"' she an- 
swered. ‘‘Maybe if I were right there 
on the ground — I mean the ice — I 
could with a divining rod, but on the 
map I can’t.” 

“Well, it doesn’t matter,” Chief 
Sam said. ‘‘We have it within some- 
thing like a twenty- to thirty-mile 
circle, and that ought to be close 
enough, at least till we get there 

''Tomorrow?” I gasped. 

‘‘Of course tomorrow. Garry, this 
won’t wait. If it were at all possible. 
I’d say today.” His face was very 
grave. ‘‘The only question is, who be- 
sides you is coming with me? It won’t 
be anything like polar exploration in 
the old days. We’ll have no trouble 
keeping warm, no trouble with sup- 
plies, no real risk of being out of 
touch —unless we’re hit by a really 
rough unexpected storm, and there’s 
nothing like that threatening. But of 
course there’ll be danger. We’ll makq 
our approach from Point Barrow, and 
the Russians — if any do show up— 
will be coming from way up in Si- 
beria, about the same distance away.” 
He paused. ‘‘It’ll all be voluntary,” he 
said, ‘‘but I’d like to have both Marina 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

and Veronica along: Veronica to find 
the Monitor for us, and Marina be- 
cause she is an empath and because, 
if the Monitor is indeed alive, any 
rapport we can establish with it will 
be invaluable.” 

He looked at all of us, and Veroni- 
ca said instantly, “Colonel Warhorse, 
of course I’ll come. But — but won’t I 
be a — a problem for you? After 

“I’ll come, too, if you want me 
to,” Amy offered. “I’ll be Seeing-Eye 
Amy for you, Veronica. Tell our big 
Injun here how good I’m getting at 

“She really is. Colonel.” 

Chief Sam chuckled. “And Ma- 

“I certainly don’t intend to let 
Garry go wandering off into the Froz- 
en North without me. I’ll tell Aunt 
Tomiko to take care of the kids— 
she’ll be tickled pink. Will there be 
any others with us?” 

“A navy type, Tom Conradin, an 
old friend of mine. He’s being flown 
out, and he’ll meet us up at Barrow. 
After I make some calls. I’ll drive you 
and Garry back to Cinnabar to kiss 
your kids. Then we’ll have dinner to- 
gether, and we’ll be picked up later 
in the evening.” 

“B-but won’t we have to, well, 
pack?"" Veronica asked. 

“Not at all. Everything’ll be taken 
care of. Amy, may 1 use your phone?” 

Sam was on the phone for about 

half an hour, talking into a little 
scrambler he attached to it after mak- 
ing his connections. He gave precise 
directions: the type of aircraft he’d 
need, the emergency equipment, ev- 
erything — even the arctic clothing 
and, I was relieved to hear, personal 
weaponry. From the way it sounded, 
nobody on the other end was arguing 
with him. So it goes when one’s au- 
thority starts all the way at the top. 

When he hung up, his expression 
was really grim. “The Russkies are al- 
ready there,” he said. 

“So what do we do now?” 1 asked. 

“We go anyhow. It’s all arranged, 
and we’ve as much right there as they 
have.” He put the scrambler back in 
his pocket. “Veronica, we’ll be back 
in an hour at the outside. Bye now.” 

Back in the car, he seemed to 
forget all about the Soviets. “What do 
you think of Veronica?” he asked Ma- 
rina. “What’s she like deep down?” 

“Sam, she’s as beautiful inside as 
she is outside. She’s kind, and there’s 
no bitterness about her blindness, 
and she’s strong, very strong. But I 
could feel a deep, deep, dreadful sad- 
ness, her fear of being dependent, of 
causing people trouble. I think it’d be 
awfully difficult for her to form any 
really close relationship, like mar- 
riage or even an affair — perhaps es- 
pecially an affair. She has a horror of 
being pitied.” 

I thought of what a strange sort of 
expedition it was going to be, and of 
how odd the people at Point Barrow 

Ultimate Weapon 


were sure to think it — blind Gothic 
heroine complete with handmaiden, 
lovely Eurasian woman complete with 
one time fly-boy husband, Indian chief 
with his eagles on his shoulders in- 
stead of their feathers in a warbon- 
net. And 1 wondered, too, how the 
thing we were seeking would react 
to us — and what we*d do if and 
when the Russkies or whoever came. 

“Chief Sam,** I said, “we know 
what took place during that two- 
minute interval when our hickus was 
off the air. I’m sure your analysis is 
right on line. But has anyone really 
looked into the history of such For- 
tean happenings — I mean, to see if 
there may have been similar time- 
coincidences long ago? What else oc- 
curred when the Red Sea opened for 
the children of Israel, or when the 
sun stood still for Joshua? Whatever 
the hickus itself is, its malfunctions 
could go back a long way.’* 

“We though of that, but there’s 
been no time. Anyhow, our cursory 
survey of the literature showed only a 
handful of coincidences that could 
have been at all significant — nothing 
like our several hundred cases a week 
ago. So again, we don’t know how, 
what, or why. But we do know we 
have to act without losing any more 
time. Remember what I said about 
the Ultimate Weapon.** 

I thought of what might happen if 
someone found it. Addled with it, and 
ruined it completely. “My God!’* I 
said. “If it got turned completely off. 

the results could be mind-boggling.** 

“Exactly, Garry. But aside from 
getting there first, if possible, there’s 
nothing we can do about it. Right 
now I want you to tell me if your 
good Scottish second sight is getting 
any warnings about Veronica and Amy 
and Marina — and about me, for that 

I shook my head. “Nothing, Col- 
onel,** I answered. “I don’t feel any- 
thing about any of you, except — *’ I 
paused, trying to put a vague hunch 
into words. “— except I think some- 
thing’s going to happen to Veronica, 
something stupendous, good or bad 
—I can’t tell which.’* 

“Let’s pray it’s good,** he said. He 
didn’t need to warn any of us not to 
depend on what I could foresee. One 
of The Team’s ironclad rules was al- 
ways to take all ordinary precautions. 
Just because your third eye showed 
you it’d be safe to run that red light 
at over eighty didn’t mean you went 
ahead and did it. 

A navy aircraft picked us up at 
Cinnabar’s Air National Guard field at 
7:30 on the dot, and another, better 
suited to the climate, ferried us on 
out to Point Barrow from our Alaskan 
landing. By 1:00 a.m. we were being 
shown to our quarters for the night, 
and Sam had introduced us to his naval 
friend. Tom Conradin was a com- 
mander: tall; handsome in a kindly, 
weather-beaten sort of way; and— 
well, the only word is substantial. 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

“Tom can fly anything, Garry,” 
Sam said. He grinned. “And you’re go- 
ing to find him very talented in other 
ways. We’ve worked together several 
times now.” 

Then he introduced Tom to Ver- 
onica, and I have never in my life wit- 
nessed an introduction like it. It was 
as though there was an instant flow of 
—what? energy? life force? pure har- 
mony? — between the two of them. I 
felt that it was something beyond my 
understanding, and I resented it be- 
cause I could not understand. How 
was it, 1 asked myself, that whenever 
Sam set up one of his people- 
equations, it never failed to work 

Saying nothing, smiling, Veronica 
touched Tom Conradin’s features, 
slowly, as though savoring each de- 
tail. She murmured her pleasure. 
Then, gently, very gently, he took her 
right hand in his and kissed its palm. 

“I’m glad, Veronica,” he said. “I 
am glad.” 

“And I,” she echoed. 

“I’ve a feeling,” Amy whispered in 
my ear, “that I’m not going to be 
Seeing-Eye Amy too much longer. I— 
I’m so happy I could c-cry.” 

Sam just stood there beaming. 

Talented? I thought. You said it! 
He and she — they certainly have 
something I don't have. 

The other introductions followed; 
somebody took orders for a nightcap; 
we relaxed for ten or fifteen minutes, 
then went to bed. 

Next morning, everything was as 
ready as Sam had promised: every bit 
of arctic clothing, wonderfully insu- 
lated, electrically heated. I knew it 
would fit each of us perfectly — and 
that in spite of being used to Sam’s 
effectiveness. I’d still wonder how 
the devil he’d managed it. 

We had breakfast in the officer’s 
mess, and there the base comman- 
dant joined us. Over the ham and 
eggs and hotcakes, he briefed us about 
the Soviets. They’d come in three 
choppers, and there must’ve been 
more than twenty personnel. They 
lighted down a couple of miles from 
the area Veronica’s pendulum had 
indicated, and at first they seemed to 
be searching it methodically, but be- 
fore long their movements began to 
look more and more erratic; they 
started going around, not in circles, 
but in ellipses, pretty much as the 
pendulum had done over the chart. 
Our people had kept them under 
routine observation, making a photo- 
graphic record using telephoto len- 
ses, which they now showed us, to- 
gether with an outline of the area 

Chief Sam watched it silently. 
Some of them made a great show of 
using scientific instruments as though 
prospecting — exactly as we’d pro- 
posed to do. But they kept breaking 
off more and more often, stopping to 
discuss or, judging from the vigor of 
their gestures, possibly to argue. 

“What the hell do you suppose 

Ultimate Weapon 


they were looking for?” asked the 
commandant. ‘‘Oil? Uranium? A stash 
of platinum?” 

‘‘I wouldn’t know,” Sam answered, 
‘‘but we’ve still got orders to sniff 
around ourselves.” 

‘‘I guess that makes sense,” said 
the commandant, ‘‘even if they didn’t 
find it. They took off for Old Home 
Week in Siberia just a couple of hours 
after you got here.” 

Sam and I exchanged glances. Had 
they found what we were looking 
for? Or hadn’t they? And were they 
planning to come back? 

We changed into our arctics and 
found the chopper waiting for us, 
loaded with all sorts of equipment 
and a lot of gadgetry whose function I 
couldn’t even guess at. I found myself 
wondering whether it hadn’t been 
put together at Chief Sam’s order to 
confound any possible observers. The 
chopper wasn’t one I was too familiar 
with, but 1 guessed rightly that Tom 
Conradin knew all about it, so I took 
the copilot’s seat. He made a beauti> 
ftil takeoff, with Veronica sitting as 
close ^to him as possible. 

You never realize how small a 
world is until you’ve seen our own 
from far out in space, or so they tell 
me — but you never realize how vast 
it is, and how smz\\ you are, until you 
fly over it, and especially over those 
forbidding regions where the last Ice 
Age still lingers on. The miles of pack 
ice, first the tens and scores of miles. 

then one hundred, two hundred, 

Finally, as we neared the area Ver- 
onica’s pendulum had selected for 
us. Chief Sam brought out the chart 
again, and, for his own reference, the 
photographs. The day was absolutely 
clear, and visibility was horizon to 
horizon. We were sure the Soviets 
would be observing us, and as we 
flew, Sam gave us instructions in how 
to put on a good show for them. 

Now the pendulum was once again 
describing its figure eight, its symbol 
of infinity, but more decisively than it 
had before, without its previous trem- 
ors and hesitations — then abruptly 
Veronica cried out, “Colonel! Col- 
onel Warhorse! See where the two 
loops of the eight are crossing? I feel 
it strongly there. Is it a place where 
we can land?” 

Sam checked the chart. He check- 
ed the photograph. He and Tom Con- 
radin carefully compared them with 
our assumed position. I looked out 
and down, to where Sam was point- 
ing. There, a thousand feet below us, 
I saw a tilted plane of ice, almost a 
mile long and from half to three- 
quarters wide, high at one end as if 
the pack ice had pushed against and 
under it. It was a little smoother than 
the surrounding ice. We circled round 
it carefully, dropping lower with each 
tightening circle, Sam and 1 with our 
binoculars searching for signs of the 
Soviets’ visit. We found them, but not 
on our tilted block. Their choppers 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

had landed on the rougher surround- 
ing ice, apparently on two sides, and 
we could sec the tracks of one or 
more vehicles of some sort, probably 
power sleds or snowmobiles. 

“Where do you want us down, Ver- 
onica?” Tom asked. 

She let her pendulum’s point strike 
the chart. “There!” she answered. 

It was pointing approximately at 
the center of our ice plate. 

With infinite care, Tom brought 
us down. He switched off the turbos. 
We waited, looking at Veronica and 
at each other. 

“We’re close enough,” she told 
us, and from a pocket she produced a 
forked twig, peeled and polished from 
much use, hazel or willow probably. 
But there were other things to do be- 
fore she could begin to use it. We put 
on full arctic kits, face masks, heated 
gloves, everything. Then we unloaded, 
putting the instruments ostentatious- 
ly out onto the ice, stacking supplies 
and what, when set up, would be two 
igloo-shaped, insulated tents. Then 
we began to reconnoiter, and found 
that the Soviets had indeed looked 
over our own area, but — judging by 
their tracks — only cursorily. For an 
hour or two, we made a great show of 
wandering around with one or anoth- 
er of the instruments, making notes 
of our wholly mythical findings, and 
pretending to discuss matters seri- 
ously and excitedly. In the meantime, 
Veronica, with Tom always at her el- 
bow, had started using her little 

dowsing rod. He and she followed it 
from one creased ridge to another, 
always toward the elevated end. Fi- 
nally, before the largest of a rough 
series of high hummocks, one that 
rose fifty or more feet, facing us with 
a forbidding scarp, they halted. 

“// is herer she said, in a very 
small voice. “// is here, and it — it is 
aliver She pointed directly at the 
scarp. “Can we set the tents up here?” 

“No reason why not,” Chief Sam 
replied. We set to work, all of us ex- 
cept Veronica, and set them up in the 
hummock’s lee, sheltered from the 
occasional gusts of wind that swept 
against it. 

Then Sam turned to Marina. “Can 
you contact it?” he asked. 

Before she answered him, she 
came to me, and though I could not 
see her face, 1 knew that she was 
scared. 1 put an arm around her. 

“Contact it? Oh Sam, I’m not sure. 
But I feel that it is trying to contact 
me — at least to tell me something 
about — I suppose about itself. How 
can 1 put it? Remember what Veroni- 
ca said about despair? I feel waves of 
it: great, dark, almost hopeless waves 
of it. Sam, I feel it’s been deserted, 
abandoned, left all alone by those 
who put it here, whom it has always 

“Marina, what is it?” 

“Colonel Sam, I just don’t know."' 

He weighed the next questions. 
“Has it a body? At least a body as we 
know them?” 

Uhiiiuite Weapon 


‘Wo.'” she cried. “No, no, no! It 
knows what we’re asking now. It’s 
starting to understand through all 
that despair. It has no body.' It — it’s 
pure spirit. Oh, call it pure mind! It 
permeates this ice — only — only it’s 
not ice, not this big block we’re 
standing on. It’s something else, 
something contrived by those who 
brought it here. It looks like frozen 
water, but it isn’t. It sinks deeper into 
the sea, and it won’t melt unless they 
want it to. Sam, it’s been here forever 
—tens of thousands of years, a mil- 
lion maybe — and all that time this 
poor mind’s been doing what it’s sup- 
posed to do. Veronica, am I right? 
You can sense it, can’t you?” 

“Yes,” said Veronica. “It doesn’t 
speak in words, but then^ it doesn’t 
need to. I can feel everything more 
clearly now — now that it’s learned 
to use your mind as, well, as a bridge 
—its terrible sadness, its abandon- 
ment, the mounting fear that drove it 
to shirk its duty for those two min- 
utes, hoping that they’d — that they'd 
come back to — to cherish it.” She 
shook her head, her sightless eyes 
weeping behind their protective gog- 
les; and Tom Conradin held her close 
and murmured over her, words of 
comfort, of protection. 

“My God!” Amy whispered. “It— 
it sounds almost human. That 

And suddenly, then, it happened. 
Slowly, in the frozen face -of that 
harsh scarp, almost behind one of our 

two tents, a door began to form, as 
though that ice that was not ice were 
melting. We stared at it open- 
mouthed and frightened, until it was 
wide enough to enter two abreast. 

We moved toward it — and we 
were halted in our tracks, Sam and 1, 
Amy and Marina. We did not feel that 
we had been halted. We simply ceased 
to move. And it was then I realized 
that it — whatever it might be — was 
not without its own defenses. Had it 
not been for the fact that Tom and 
Veronica were still advancing, we 
never would have known that we’d 
been stopped. We simply would have 
changed direction slightly and 
moved away. 

But Tom and Veronica went on. 
Hand in hand, they walked into that 
chill doorway, and vanished through 

The rest of us waited there. We 
waited at -least a thousand years — 
even though our lying watches called 
it a mere ten minutes. Then, still 
hand in hand, they came out again, 
and the expression on their faces was 
one I had never really seen before, a 
combination of pure joy and sheer 

“You can go in now,” said Veroni- 
ca. “Something incredible has hap- 
pened. I’ll tell you later.” And she 
laughed aloud, a lovely bell-like laugh 
like a delighted child laughing. 

‘Tes, please go in,” Tom urged. 
“Please, now.” 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

Slowly wc walked forward, first 
Sam and Amy, then I and Marina. We 
entered a long passageway that turn- 
ed. We followed it around the comer. 

We stood in a vast chamber —vast 
not so much for its size as for the 
amazement of its perspectives. In- 
stantly I thought of Coleridge’s words, 
A sunny pleasure dome unth caves of 
ice^ though of course it wasn’t sunny. 

It was not sunlit, no — but some- 
how it was lighted gloriously. Light 
filled it, corruscating from the trans- 
lucent walls, swirling in their depths. 
We stood there amazed, for now we 
all could feel the Being that sur- 
rounded us in all its magnificent sim- 
plicity. We could feel its sorrow, its 
anguish, its very human guilt at its 
own dereliction. And at the same 
time, I felt suddenly — and so, I 
learned later, did all the others— 
that all this was in the past, that its 
purpose had been restored and the 
senseless void that had oppressed it 
suddenly filled with as great a happi- 
ness. Vaguely, too, I understood that 
now it perceived the design of those 
who had abandoned it, wby they had 
done so, and — most important- 
why we were there. 

The Soviets had come and gone, 
leaving behind them their litter and 
the aftertaste of their own sorrow, 
their fear of each other and of the 
secret police, and their absolute de- 
nial of what we could face as real, so 
that even the most sensitive among 
them had not dared to report what 

they had sensed as clearly as had we. 
They had left, having nothing to re- 
port but failure. 

They had come and gone, leaving 
it in an even deeper pit of despair 
than before. 

Then Veronica and Tom had come 
there, radiating their love and har- 
mony and fearlessless — and that, I 
saw suddenly, had changed every- 

After another thousand years, we 
saw that there was no further need 
for us to stay. We walked out slowly 
down the passage and through the 
door, which in utter silence closed 
shut behind us. 

Tom and Veronica were standing 
there, facing each other. 

She was looking at him. 

“Yes,” he whispered to us, awe 
and wonder in his voice, “/f under- 
stood. For just a second, it gave me 
what I wished for, the — the — ” 

“The right to work one miracle,” 
said Veronica. 

Marina ran to her and kissed her; 
she kissed Tom. We clustered round 
them in our delight. 

It was Chief Sam who finally 
brought us back to Earth. “Well,” he 
told us, “I guess it’s time we started 
back. We’ll have to admit that, like 
the Russkies, we failed to find the Ul- 
timate Weapon—” 

He smiled at all of us. “But it’s 
nice to know,” he added softly, “That 
at least some of us have advanced to 
the point where we can cherish our 

Ultimate Weapon 


own guardian angel.” 

“And '^^at about the one at the 
other end of the world?” asked Ma- 


“I’m sure,” replied Veronica, “that 
it got the message.” 

**Hi there! rd like to grant you three wishes with the exception of any in 
the areas of politics, ecology and state and local lotteries,** 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

England's Robert Holdstock published one remarkable story in 
F&SF: ''Mythago Wood” September 1981, recently expanded in- 
to and published as a novel. It's a pleasure to have him back 
with this fine tale of the building of a church on a ground 
inhabited by ancient spirits. 




for Richard Cowper 


M vkt sundown, when the ma- 
sons and Guild carpenters finished 
their work for the day and trudged 
wearily back to their village lodgings, 
Thomas Wyatt remained behind in 
the half-completed church and lis- 
tened to the voice of the stone man, 
calling to him. 

The whispered sound was urgent, 
insistent: “Hurry! Hurry! I must be 
finished before the others. Hurry. 

Thomas, hiding in the darkness 
below the gallery, felt sure that the 
ghostly cry could be heard for miles 
around. But the watchman, John Tag- 
worthy, was almost completely deaf 
now, and the priest was too involved 
with his own holy rituals to be aware 
of the way his church was being 

Thomas could hear the priest. He 
was circling the new church twice, as 
he always did at sundown. He carried 

a small, smoking censer in one hand, 
a book in the other. He walked from 
right to left. Demons, and the ghostly 
sprites on the old earth, flew before 
him, birds and bats in the darkening 
sky. The priest, like all the men who 
worked on the church — except for 
Thomas himself — was a stranger to 
the area. His hair was long, and he 
had a dark, trimmed beard; an unu- 
sual look for a monk. 

He talked always about the Su- 
preme Holiness of the place where 
his church was being built. He kept a 
close eye on the work of the crafts- 
men. He prayed to the north and the 
south, and constantly was to be seen 
kneeling at the very apex of the 
mound, as if exorcising the ancient 
spirits buried there. 

This was Dancing Hill. Before the 
stone church there had been a wood- 
en church, and some said that Saint 



Peter himself had raised the first tim- 
bers. And hadn’t Joseph, bearing the 
Grail of Christ, rested on this very 
spot, and driven out the demons from 
the earth mound? 

But it was Dancing Hill. On mid- 
winter’s eve, spikes of the four great 
woods were secretly buried in the 
mound, and stories were told of the 
very first church that had stood there; 
and of the four great trees that had 
grown around it, each trunk carved 
into the shape of a dancing man. 

Sometimes it was referred to by 
its older name, Ynys Calidryv, isle of 
the old fires. And there were other 
names, too, but they were forgotten 

“Hurry!” called the stone man from 
his hidden niche. Thomas felt the 
cold walls vibrate with the voice of 
the specter. He shivered as he felt the 
power of the earth returning to the 
carved ragstone pillars, to the neatly 
positioned blocks. Always at night. 

The watchman’s fire crackled and 
flared in the lee of the south wall. 
The priest walked away, down the 
hill to the village. He stopped just 
once to stare back at the half- 
constructed shell of the first stone 
church in the area. Then he was 

Thomas stepped from the dark- 
ness, staring up through the empty 
roof to the clouds and the sky, and 
the gleaming light that was Jupiter. 
His heart was beating fast, but a great 
relief touched his limbs and his mind. 

And as always, he smiled, then closed 
his eyes for a moment. He thought of 
what he was doing. He thought of 
Beth, of what she would say if she 
knew his secret work. Sweet Beth. 
With no children to comfort her, she 
was now more alone than ever. But it 
would not be for much longer. The 
face was nearly finished. . . . 


A few more nights. A few more 
hours working in darkness, and all 
the watchman’s best efforts to guard 
the church will have been in vain. 

The church will have been stolen. 
Thomas will have been the thief! 

He moved through the gloom now, 
to where a wooden ladder lay against 
the side wall.. He placed the ladder 
against the high gallery — the leper’s 
gallery — and climbed it. He drew 
the ladder up behind him and stepped 
across the debris of wood, stone, and 
leather to the farthest, tightest cor- 
ner of the place. Bare faces of the 
coarse ragstone watched the silent 
church. No mortar joined the stones. 
Their weight held them secure. They 
supported nothing but themselves. 

At Thomas’s muscular insistence, 
one of them moved and came away 
from the others. 

With twilight gone but night not 
yet fully descended, there was enough 
gray light for him to see the face that 
was carved there. He stared at the 
leafy beard; the narrowed, slanting 
eyes; the wide, flaring nostrils. He 
saw how the cheeks would look, how 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

the hair would become spiky, how he 
would include the white and red ber- 
ries of witch-thorn upon the twigs 
that clustered round the face. . . . 

All carved from the stone. 

Thomas stared at Thom, and Thom 
watched him by return, a cold smile 
on cold stone lips. Voices whispered 
in a sound realm that was neither in 
the church nor in hell, but some- 
where between the two, a shadow 
land of voice, movement, and memory. 

“I must be finished before the 
others,” the stone man whispered. 

‘‘You shall be,” said the mason, se- 
lecting chisel and hammer from his 
leather bag. ‘‘Be patient.” 

‘‘I must be finished before the 
magic ones!” Thorn insisted, and 
Thomas sighed with irritation. 

‘‘You shall be finished before the 
magic ones. No one has agreed upon 
the design of their faces yet.” 

The ‘‘magic ones” were what Thom 
called the Apostles. The twelve stat- 
ues were laid out in the area of the 
altar, bodies completed but faces still 
smoothly blank. Why Thom feared 
them as ‘‘magic” things, Thomas had 
no idea. 

‘‘To control them I must be here 
first,” Thorn said. 

‘‘I’ve already opened your eyes. 
You can see how the other faces are 

‘‘Open them better,” said Thorn. 

‘‘Very well.” 

Thomas reached out to the stone 
face. He touched the lips, the nose, 

the eyes. He knew every prominence, 
every rill, every chisel mark. The 
grains of the stone were like pebbles 
beneath his touch. He could feel the 
hard-stone intrusion below the right 
eye, where the rag would not chisel 
well. There was a hardness, too, in 
the crown of thorns, a blemish in the 
soft rock that would have to be shaped 
carfiilly to avoid cracking the whole 
design. As his fingers ran across the 
thorn man’s lips, cold, old breath 
tickled him, the woodland man breath- 
ing from his time in the long past. As 
Thomas touched the eyes, he felt the 
eyeballs move, impatient to see bet- 

/ am in a wood grave, and a 
thousand years lie between us. Thorn 
had said. Hurry, hurry. Bring me 

In the deepening darkness, work- 
ing by touch alone, Thomas chiseled 
the face, bringing back the life of the 
lost god. The sound of his work was a 
sequence of shrill notes, stone music 
in the still church. John Tagworthy, 
outside by the fire, would be un- 
aware of them. He might see a tallow 
candle by its glow upon the clouds; 
he might smell a fart from the distant 
castle on a still summer’s night — but 
the noises of man and nature had 
long since ceased to bother his senses. 

‘‘Thomas! Thomas Wyatt! Where 
in God’s Name are you?” 

The voice, hailing him from be- 
low, so shocked Thomas that he 
dropped his chisel, and in desperate- 



ly trying to catch the tool he cut him- 
self. He stayed silent for a long mo- 
ment, cursing Jupiter and the sudden 
hand of bright stars for their light. 
The church was a place of shadows 
against darkness. As he peered at the 
north arch, he thought he could see a 
man’s shape, hut it was only an unfin- 
ished timber. He reached for the heavy 
stone block that would cover the 
stone face, and as he did so, the voice 
came again. 

“God take your gizzard, Thomas 
Wyatt! It’s Simon. Miller’s son Si- 

Thomas crept to the gallery’s edge 
and peered over. The movement drew 
attention to him, and Simon’s pale 
features turned to look up at him. “I 
heard you working. What are you 
working on?’’ 

“Nothing,” Thomas lied. “Practic- 
ing my craft on good stone with good 

“Show me the face, Thomas,” said 
the younger man, and Thomas felt 
the blood drain from his head. How 
bad he known? Simon was twenty 
years old, married for three years and 
still, like Thomas himself, childless. 
He was a freeman, of course; he 
worked in his father’s mill but spent a 
lot of his time in the fields, both his 
family’s strips and the land belong- 
ing to the castle. His great ambition, 
though, was to be a Guildsman, and 
masonry was his aspiration. 

“What face?” Thomas whispered 

“Send down the ladder,” Simon 
urged, and reluctantly Thomas let the 
wood scaffold down. The miller clam- 
bered up to the gallery, breathing 
hard. He smelled of garlic. He looked 
eagerly about in the gloom. “Show 
me the green man.” 

“Explain what you mean.” 

“Come on, Thomas! Everybody 
knows you’re shaping the Lord of 
Wood. I want to see him. 1 want to 
know how he kwks.” 

Thomas could hardly speak. His 
heart alternately stopped and raced. 
Simon’s words were like stab wounds. 
pAferyhody knew! How could every- 
body know? 

Thom had spoken to him and to 
him alone. He had sworn the mason 
to silence and secrec 7 . For thirty days, 
Thomas Wyatt had risked not just a 
flogging, but almost certain hanging 
for blasphemy; had risked his life for 
the secret realm. Everybody knew* 

“If everybody knows, why haven’t 
1 been stopped?” 

“1 don’t mean everyhodyr Simon 
said as he felt blindly along the cold 
walls for a sign of Thomas’s work. “I 
mean the village. It’s spoken in whis- 
pers. You’re a hero, Thomas. We know 
what you’re doing, and for whom. It’s 
exciting; it’s ri^bt. I’ve danced with 
them at the forest cross. I’ve carried 
the fire. I know how much power 
remains here. I may take God’s name 
in oath — but that’s safe to do. He has 
no power over me, or any of us. He 
doesn’t belong on Dancing Hill. Don’t 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

worry, Thomas. WeTe your friends. 

. . . Ah!” 

Simon had found the loose stone. 
It was heavy, and he grunted loudly as 
he took its weight, letting it down 
carefully to the floor. His breathing 
grew soft as he reached for the stone 
face. But Thomas could see how the 
young man drew back, fingers ex- 
tended yet not touching the precious 

‘‘There’s magic in this, Thomas,” 
Simon said in awe. 

‘‘There’s skill — working by night, 
working with fear — there’s skill 
enough. I’ll say that.” 

‘‘There’s magic in the face,” Si- 
mon repeated. ‘‘It’s drawing power 
from the earth below. It’s tapping the 
Dancing Well. There’s water in the 
eyes, Thomas. The dampness of the 
old well. The face is brilliant,” 

He struggled with the covering 
stone and replaced it. ‘‘I wish it had 
been me. I wish the green man had 
chosen me. What an honor, Thomas. 

Thomas Wyatt watched his friend 
in astonishment. Was this really Si- 
mon the miller’s son? Was this the 
young man who had carried the Cross 
every Resurrection Sunday for ten 
years? Simon Miller! I've iianced with 
them at the forest cross. 

‘‘Whom have you danced with at 
the crossroads, Simon?” 

"'You know,” Simon whispered. 
‘‘It’s alive, Thomas. It’s all alive. It’s 
here, around us. It never went away. 

The Lord of Wood showed us. . . .” 

‘‘Thorn? Is that who you mean?” 

‘‘Him!” Simon pointed toward the 
hidden niche. ‘‘He’s been here for 
years. He came the moment the monks 
decided to build the church. He came 
to save us, Thomas. And you’re help- 
ing. I envy you. . . .” 

Simon climbed down the ladder. 
He was a fiirtive night shape, darting 
to the high arch where an oak door 
would soon be fitted, and out across 
the mud-chumed hill, back round the 
forest, to where the village was a dark 
place, sleeping. 

Thomas followed him down, plac- 
ing the ladder back against the wall. 
But on the open hill, almost in sight 
of the watchman’s fire, he looked to 
the north, across the forest, to where 
the ridge way was a high band of dark- 
ness against the pale gray glow of the 
clouds. Below the ridgeway a fire 
burned. He knew that he was looking 
at the forest cross, where the stone 
road of the Romans crossed the dis- 
used track between Wudeherst and 
Bidindenne villages. He had played 
there as a child, despite being told 
never ever to follow the broken stone 

There was a clearing at the de- 
serted crossroads, and years ago he 
and Simon Miller’s elder brother Wat 
had often found the remains of fire 
and feasts. Outlaws, of course, or the 
night meals of the brave Saxon 
knights who journeyed the hidden 
forest trails until summoned to pro- 



tcct the innocent. Any other reason 
for the use of the place would have 
been unthinkable. Why, there was 
even an old gibbet, where forest jus- 
tice was seen to be done. . . . 

With a shiver, he remembered the 
time when he had come to the clearing 
and seen the swollen, grayish corpse 
of a man swinging from that blackened 
wood. Dark birds had been perched up- 
on its shoulders. The face had had no 
eyes, no nose, no flesh at all, and the 
sight of the dead villain had stopped 
him from ever going back again. 

Now a fire burned at forest cross. 
A fire like the fire of thirty nights ago, 
when Thorn had sent the woman for 
him. . . . 

H e had woken to the sound of his 
name being called from outside. His 
wife, Beth, slept soundly on, turning 
slightly on the straw-filled pallet. It 
had been a warm night. He had tugged 
on his britches and drawn a linen 
shirt over his shoulders. Stepping out- 
side, he had disturbed a hen, which 
clucked angrily and stalked to anoth- 
er resting place. 

The woman was dressed in dark 
garments. Her head was covered by a 
shawl. She was young, though, and 
the hand that reached for his was soft 
and pale. 

“Who are you?’’ he said, drawing 
back. She had tugged at him. His re- 
luctance to go with her was partly 
fear, partly concern that Beth would 

see him. 

“lagus craagoth! Fiatha! Fiatbar 
Her words were strange to Thomas. 
They were like the hidden language 
(which he had never been allowed to 
learn), but were not of the same 

“Who are you?’’ he insisted, and 
the woman sighed, still holding his 
hand. At last she pointed to her bos- 
om. Her eyes were bright beneath 
the covering of the shawl. Her hair 
was long, and he sensed it to be red. 
like fire. “Anuth!” she said. She 
pointed distantly. “Thorn. You come 
with Thorn. With Anuth. Me. Come. 
Thomas. Thomas to Thorn. Fiatha.'"' 

She dragged at his hand, and he 
began to run. The grip on his fingers 
relaxed. She ran ahead of him, skirts 
swirling, body hunched. He tripped 
in the darkness, but she seemed able 
to see every low-hanging branch and 
raised beechwood root on the track. 
They entered the wood. He concen- 
trated on her fleeing shape, calling 
occasionally for her to slow down. 
Each time he went sprawling, she 
came back, making clicking sounds 
with her mouth, impatient, anxious. 
She helped him to his feet but imme- 
diately took off into the forest depths, 
heedless of risk to life and limb. 

All at once he heard voices, a 
rhythmic beating, the crackfe of fire 
. . . and the gentle sound of running 
water. She had brought him to the 
river. It wound through the forest, 
and then across downland, toward 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

the Avon. 

Through the trees he saw the fire. 
Anuth took his hand and pulled him, 
not to the bright glade, but toward 
the stream. As he walked, he stared at 
the flames. Dark, human shapes passed 
before the fire. They seemed to be 
dancing. The heavy rhythm was like 
the striking of one bone against an- 
other. The voices were singing. The 
language was familiar to him, but 

Anuth dragged him past the firelit 
glade. He came to the river, and she 
slipped away. Surprised, he turned, 
hissing her name. But she had van- 
ished. He looked back at the water, 
where starlight and the light of a 
quarter moon made the surface seem 
alive. There was a thick-trunked thorn 
tree growing from the water’s edge. 
The thorn tree trembled and shifted 
in the evening wind. 

The thorn tree grew before the 
startled figure of Thomas Wyatt. It 
rose; it straightened, it stretched. 
Arms, legs, the gleam of moonlight 
on eyes and teeth. 

“Welcome, Thomas,’’ said the 
thorn tree. 

He took a step backward, fright- 
ened by the apparition. 

“Welcome where?’’ 

In front of him. Thorn laughed. 
The man’s voice rasped, like a child 
with the consumption. “Look around 
you, Thomas. Tell me what you see.” 

“Darkness. Woodland. A river, 
stars. Night. Cold night.’’ 

“Take a breath, Thomas. What do 
you smell?’’ 

“That same night. The river. Leaves 
and dew. The fire, I can smell the fire. 
And autumn. All the smells of au- 

“When did you last see and smell 
these things?’’ 

Thomas, confused by the strange 
midnight encounter, shivered in his 
clothing. “Last night. I’ve always seen 
and smelled them.’’ 

“Then welcome to a place you 
know well. Welcome to the always 
place. Welcome to an autumn night, 
something that this land has always 
known, and will always enjoy.’’ 

“But who are you?’’ 

“1 have been known by many 
names.’’ He came close to the trem- 
bling man. His hawthorn crown, with 
its strange horns, was like a broken 
tree against the clouds. His beard of 
leaves and long grass rustled as he 
spoke. His body quivered where the 
night breeze touched the clothing of 
nature that wound around his torso. 
“Do you believe in God, Thomas?’’ 

“He died for us. His son. On the 
Cross. He is the Almighty. . . .’’ 

Thom raised his arms. He held 
them sideways. He was a great cross 
in the cold night, and his crown of 
thorns was a beast’s antlers. Old fears, 
forgotten shudders, plagued the vil- 
lager, Thomas Wyatt. Ancestral cries 
mocked him. Memories of fire whis- 
pered words in the hidden language; 
confused his mind. 



“I am the Cross of God,” said 
Thorn. “Touch the wood; touch the 
sharp thorns. . . .” 

Thomas reached out. His actions 
were not his own. His fingers touched 
the cold flesh of the man's stomach. 
He felt the ridged muscle in the cross- 
beam, the bloody points of the thorns 
that rose from the man’s head. He 
nervously brushed the gnarled wood 
of the thighs, and the thick oak branch 
that rose between them, hot to his 
fingers, nature’s passion, never dying. 

“What do you want of me?” Thom- 
as asked quietly. 

The cross became a man again. 
“To make my image in the new shrine. 
To make that shrine my own. To 
make it as mine forever, no matter 
what manner of worship is performed 
within its walls. ...” 

Thomas stared at the Lord of 
Wood. “Why not do it yourselP” 

Thorn laughed. “I am in a wood 
grave, Thomas, and a thousand years 
lie between us. What you see before 
you is an image of the god. A man. 
The servant of the god. To bring me 
back, my image must be made in 
stone. Hurry, Thomas. Hurry'. Bring 
me back to the world.” 

“Tell me what I must do. ...” 

Everybody knew, Simon had said. 
Everybody in the village. It was .spok- 
en in whispers. Thomas was a hero. 
Everybody knew. Everybody but 
Thomas Wyatt. 

“Why have they kept it from me?” 

he murmured to the night. He had 
huddled up inside his jacket, and 
folded his body into the tight shelter 
of a wall bastion. The encounter with 
Simon had shaken him badly. 

From here he could see north to 
Bidindenne across the gloomy shape- 
lessness of the forest. The castle, and 
the clustered villages of its demesne, 
were behind him. He saw only stars, 
pale clouds, and the flicker of fire, 
where strange worship occurred. 

Why did the fire, in this midnight 
forest, call to him so much? Why was 
there such comfort in the thought 
of the warm glow from the piled 
branches, and the noisy chatter, and 
laughter, of those who clustered in 
its shadowy light? He had danced 
about a fire often enough: on mid- 
summer eve, and at the passing of the 
day of All Hallows. But those fires 
were in the village bounds. His soul 
fluttered, a delighted bird, at the 
thought pf the woodland fire. The 
smell of autumn, the touch of night’s 
dew, the closeness to the souls of 
tree and plant; timeless eyes would 
watch the dancers. They were a shared 
life with the forest. 

Why had he been kept in isola- 
tion? Everybody knew. The villagers 
who carried the bleeding, dying Christ 
through the streets on Resurrection 
Sunday . . . were they now carrying 
images of boar and stag and hare 
about the fire? He — Thomas — was a 
hero. They spoke of him in whispers. 
Everybody knew of his work. When 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

had they been taken back to the be- 
liefs of old? Had Thorn appeared to 
each of them as well? 

Why didn’t he share the new be- 
lief with them? It was the same belief. 
He used his craft; they danced for the 

As if he were of the same cold 
stone-stuff upon which he worked, 
the others kept him distant, watched 
him from afar. Did Beth know? Thom- 
as shivered. The hours passed. He 
could feel the gibbet rope around his 
neck. Only one word out of place, 
one voice overheard — one whisper 
to the wrong man, and Thomas Wyatt 
would be a gray thing, slung by its 
neck, prey for dark birds. Eyes, nose, 
the flesh of the face. Every feature 
that he pecked for Thorn with ham- 
mer and chisel would be pecked from 
him by hard, wet beaks. 

From the position of the moon, 
Thomas realized he had been sitting 
by the church for several hours. John 
the watchman had not walked past. 
Now that he thought of it, Thomas 
could hear the man’s snoring, coming 
as if from a far place. 

Thomas eased himself to his feet. 
He lifted his bag gently to his shoul- 
der, overcautious about the ring and 
strike of iron tools within the leather. 
But as he walked toward the path, he 
heard movement in the church. The 
watchman snored distantly. 

It must be Simon, Thomas thought, 
back for another look at the face of 
the woodland god. 

irritated, and still confused, Thom- 
as stepped into the church again and 
looked toward the gallery. The ladder 
was against the balcony. He could 
hear the stone being moved. There 
was a time of silence; then the stone 
was put back. A figure moved to the 
ladder and began to descend. 

Thomas watched in astonishment. 
He stepped into greater darkness as 
the priest looked round, then hauled 
the ladder back to its storage place. 
All Thomas heard was the sound of 
the priest’s laughter. The man passed 
through the gloom, long robe swirl- 
ing through the dust and debris. 


Lven the priest knew! And that made 
no sense at all. Thomas slept restless- 
ly, listening to the soft breathing of 
his wife. Several times the urge to 
wake her, to speak to her, made him 
whisper her name and shake her 
shoulders. But she slumbered on. At 
sunrise they were up together, but he 
was so tired he could hardly speak. 
They ate hard bread, moistened with 
cold, thin gruel. Thomas tipped the 
last of their ale into a clay mug. The 
drink was meatier than the gruel, but 
he swallowed the sour liquid and felt 
its warming tingle. 

“The last of the ale,’’ he said rue- 
fully, tapping the barrel. 

“You’ve been too busy to brew,’’ 
Beth said from the table. “And I’m 
not skilled.’’ She was wrapped in a 
heavy wool cloak. The fire was a dead 



place in the middle of the small room. 
Gray ash drifted in the light from the 
roof hole. 

“But no aler He banged his cup 
on the barrel in frustration. Beth 
looked up at him, surprised by his 

“We can get ale from the miller. 
We’ve done it before and repaid him 
from our own brewing. It’s not the 
end of the world.’’ 

“I’ve had no time to brew,’’ Thom- 
as said, watching Beth through hood- 
ed, rimmed eyes. “I’ve been working 
on something of importance. I ex- 
pect you know what.’’ 

She shrugged. “Why would I know? 
You never talk about it.’’ Her pale 
face was sweet. She was as pretty 
now as when he had married her; 
fuller in body, yes, and wiser in the 
ways of life. That they were childless 
had not affected her spirit. She had 
allowed the wise women to dose her 
with herbs and bitter spices, to take 
her to strange standing stones and 
stranger foreigners. She had been 
seen by apothecaries and doctors, and 
Thomas had worked in their fields to 
pay them. Thomas had been exam- 
ined too, and he had worked even 

And of course, they prayed. 

Now Thomas felt too old to care 
about children. Life was good with 
Beth, and their sadness had drawn 
them closer than most couples he 

“Everybody knows what I’m work- 

ing on,’’ he said bitterly. 

“Well, I don’t,’’ she replied. “But 
I’d like to. . . .’’ 

Perhaps he had been unfair to her. 
Perhaps she, too, was kept apart from 
the village’s shared knowledge. He 
lied to her. “You must not say a word 
to anyone. But I’m working on the 
face of ... of Jesus.” 

Beth was delighted. “Oh Thomas! 
That’s wonderful. I’m so proud of 
you.” She came round to him and 
hugged him. Outside, Master Mason 
Tobias Craven called out his name, 
among others, and he trudged up to 
the church on Dancing Hill. 

His work was uneven and lazy that 
day. The chisel slipped; the stone 
splintered; the hammer caught his 
thumb twice. He was distracted and 
deeply concerned by what he had 
seen the night before. When the priest 
came to the church, to walk through 
the bustle of activity and inspect the 
day’s progress, Thomas watched him 
carefully, hoping for some sign of rec- 
ognition. But the man just smiled and 
nodded, then carried the small light 
of Christ to the altar, where he said 
silent prayers for an hour or more. 

At sundown, Thomas felt his body 
shaking. When the priest called the 
craftsmen into the vestry for wine, 
Thomas stood by the door, staring at 
the dark features of the Man of God. 
The priest, handing him his cup, mere- 
ly said, “God be with you, Thomas.” 
It was what he always said. 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

Tobias Craven came over to him. 
His face was gray with dust, his cloth- 
ing heavy with dirt. His dialect was 
difficult for Thomas to understand, 
and Thomas was suspicious of the 
gesture anyway. Would he now dis- 
cover that the foreigners, too, knew 
of the face of the woodland diety, half 
completed behind its door of stone? 

“Your work is good, Thomas. Not 
today, perhaps, but usually. I’ve 
watched you.” 

“Thank you.” 

“At first I was reluctant to allow 
you to work as a mason among us. It 
was at the priest’s insistence: one lo- 
cal man to work in every craft. It 
seemed a superstitious idea to me. 
But now I’m glad. I approve. It’s an 
enlightened gesture, I realize, to al- 
low local men, not of the Guilds, to 
display their skills. And your skill is 

Thomas swallowed hard. “To be a 
Guildsman would be a great honor.” 

Master Tobias looked crestfallen. 
“Aye, but alas. I wish I had seen your 
work when you were fifteen, not twen- 
ty-five. But I can write a note for you, 
to get better work in the area.” 

“Thank you,” Thomas said again. 

“Have you traveled, Thomas?” 

“Only to Glaestingeberia. I made 
a pilgrimage in the third year of my 

“Glaestingeberia,” Master Tobias 
repeated, smiling. “Now that is a fine 
abbey. I’ve seen it just once. Myself, I 
worked at Euerwik and at Caerleoil, 

on the Minsters. I was not a Master 
then, of course. But that was cher- 
ished work. Now I’m a Guild Master, 
building tiny churches in remote 
places. But it gives fulfillment to the 
soul, and one day 1 shall die and be 
buried in the shadow of a place I have 
built myself. There is satisfaction in 
the thought.” 

“May that not be for many years.” 

“Thank you, Thomas.’’ Tobias 
drained his cup. “And now, from 
God’s work to Nature’s work—” 

Thomas paled. Did he mean wood- 
land worship? The Master Mason 
winked at him. 

“A good night’s sleep!” 

When the others had gone, Thom- 
as slipped out of the sheltering wood- 
land and made his way back to the 
church. The watchman was fussing 
with his fire. There was less cloud 
this evening, and the land, though 
murky, was quite visible for many 
miles around. 

Inside the church, Thomas looked 
up at the gallery. Uncertainty made 
him hesitate; then he shook his head. 
“Until I understand better. . . .” he 
murmured, and made to turn for 

“Thomas!” Thorn called. “Hurry, 

Strange green light played off the 
stone of the church. It darted around 
him like will-o’-the-wisp. Fingers 
prodded him forward, but when he 
turned, there was nothing but shadow. 



Again Thorn called to him. 

With a sigh, Thomas placed the 
ladder against the gallery and climbed 
up to the half-finished face. Thorn 
smiled at him. The narrow eyes spar- 
kled with moisture. The leaves and 
twigs that formed his hair and beard 
seemed to rustle. The stone strained 
to move. 

“Hurry, Thomas. Open my eyes 

“I’m frightened,’’ the man said. 
“Too many people know what I’m 

“Carve me. Shape my face. I must 
be here before the others. Hurryr 

The lips of the forest god twitched 
with the ghostly figure’s anguish. 
Thomas reached out to the cold stone 
and felt its stillness. It was just a carv- 
ing. It had no life. He imagined the 
voice. It was just a man who had told 
him to make the carving, a man 
dressed in woodland disguise. Until 
he knew he was safe, he would not 
risk discovery. He climbed back down 
the ladder. Thorn called to him, but 
Thomas ignored the cry. 

At his house a warm fire burned in 
the middle of the room, and an iron 
pot of thick vegetable broth steamed 
above it. There was fresh ale from the 
miller, and Beth was pleased to see 
him home so early. She stitched old 
clothes, seated on a low stool, close 
to the wood fire. Thomas ate, then 
drank ale, leaning on the table, his 
mason’s tools spread out before him. 
The ale was strong and soon went to 

his head. He felt dizzy, sublimely de- 
tached from his body. The warmth, 
the sensation of drunkenness, his full 
stomach — all of these things made 
him drowsy, and slowly his head sank 
to his arms. . . . 

A cold blast of air on his neck 
roused him. His name was being 
called. At first he thought it was Beth, 
but soon, as he surfaced from pleas- 
ant oblivion, he recognized the rasp- 
ing voice of Thorn. 

The fire burned high, fanned by 
the draft from the open door. Beth 
still sat on her stool, but was motion- 
less and silent, staring at the flames. 
He spoke her name, but she didn’t 
respond. Thorn call to him again, and 
he looked out at the dark night. He 
felt a sudden chill of fear. He gath- 
ered his tools into his bag and step- 
ped from the house. 

Thorn stood in the dark street, a 
tall figure, his horns of wood black 
against the*sky. There was a strong 
smell of earth about him. He moved 
toward Thomas, leaf-clothes rustling. 

“The work is unfinished, Thomas.’’ 

“I’m afraid for my life. Too many 
people know what I’m doing.’’ 

“Only the finishing of the face 
matters. Your fear is of no conse- 
quence. You agreed to work for me. 
You must go to the church. Now.’’ 

“But if I’m caught!’’ 

“Then another will be found. Go 
back to the work, Thomas. Open my 
eyes properly. It must be done.’’ 

He turned from Thom and sighed. 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

There was something wrong with 
Beth, and it worried him, but the per- 
suasive power of the night figure was 
too strong to counter, and he began 
to walk wearily toward the church. 
Soon the village was invisible behind 
him. Soon the church was a sharp re- 
lief against the night sky. The watch- 
man's fire burned high, and the au- 
tumn night was sweet with the smell 
of woodsmoke. The watchman him- 
self seemed to be dancing, or so 
Thomas thought at first. He strained 
to see better, and soon realized that 
John had fallen asleep and set light 
to his clothing. He was brushing 
and beating at his leggings, his grunts 
of alarm like the evening call of a 

The moment’s humor passed, and 
a sudden anger took Thomas, Thom's 
words were like knife cuts to his 
pride: his fear was of no conse- 
quence. Only the work of carving 
mattered. He would be caught, and it 
would be of no consequence. He 
would swing, slowly strangling, from 
the castle gallows, and it would be of 
no consequence. Another would be 

“No!” he said aloud. “No. I will 
not work for Thorn tonight. Tonight 
is my night. Damn Thorn. Damn the 
face. Tomorrow I will open its eyes, 
but not now.” 

And with a last glance at the watch- 
man, who had extinguished the fire 
and settled down again, he turned 
back to the village 

ISut as he approached his house, 
aware of the glow of the fire through 
the small window, his anger changed 
to a sudden dread. He began to feel 
sick. He wanted to cry out, to alert 
the village. A voice in his head urged 
him to turn and go back to the night 
wood. His house, once so welcom- 
ing, threatened him deeply. It seemed 
surrounded by an aura, detached from 
the real world. 

He walked slowly to the small 
window. He could hear the crackle 
and spit of the flames. Woodsmoke 
was stong in the air. Somewhere, at 
the village bounds, two dogs barked. 

The feeling of apprehension in 
him grew, a strangling weed that made 
him dizzy. But he looked through the 
window. And he did not faint, nor cry 
out, at what he saw within, though a 
part of his spirit, part of his life, flew 
away from him then, abandoning him, 
making him wither and age; making 
him die a little. 

Thorn stood with his back to the 
Are. His mask of autumn leaves and 
spiky wood was bright and eerie — 
dark hair curled,, from beneath the 
mask. His arms were wound around 
the creeper and twine, and twigs of 
oak, elm, and lime were laced upon 
this binding. Save for these few frag- 
ments of nature's clothing, he was 
naked. The black hair on his body 
gave him the appearance of a burned 



oak stump, gnarled and weathered by 
years. His manhood was a smooth, 
dark branch, cut to the length of 

Beth was on her knees before 
him, her weight taken on her elbows. 
Her skirts were on the floor beside 
her. The yellow flames cast a flicker- 
ing glow upon her plump, pale flesh, 
and Thomas half closed his eyes in 
despair. He managed to stifle his 
scream of anguish, but he could not 
stop himself from watching. 

And he uttered no sound, despite 
the pain, as Thorn dropped down 
upon the waiting woman. 

As he ran to the church, the watch- 
man woke, then stood up, picking up 
his heavy staff. Thomas Wyatt knocked 
him down, then drew a flaming wood 
brand from the brazier. Toolbag on 
his shoulder, he entered the church 
and held the fire high, the ladder was 
against the balcony. Pale features 
peered down at him, and the ladder 
began to move. But Simon, the mill- 
er’s son, was not quite quick enough. 
Casting the burning wood aside, 
Thomas leapt for the scaffold and be- 
gan to ascend. 

“I was just looking, Thomas,” Si- 
mon cried, then tried to fling the 
ladder back. Thomas clutched at the 
balcony, then hauled himself to safe- 
ty. He said no word to Simon, who 
backed against the wall where the 
loose stone was fitted. 

“You mustn’t touch him, Thomas.” 

In the darkness, Simon’s eyes were 
gleaming orbs of fear. Thomas took 
him by the shoulders and flung him 
to the balcony, then used a stone to 
strike him. 

“No, Thomas! No!” 

The younger man had toppled over 
the balcony. He held on for dear life, 
fingers straining to hold his weight. 

“Tricked!” screamed Thomas. “All 
a trick! Duped! Cuckolded! All of you 
knew. All of you knewr 

“No, Thomas. In the Name of the 
God, it wasn’t like that!” 

His hammer was heavy. He swung 
it high, brought it down hard. Sim-* 
on’s left hand vanished, and the man’s 
scream of pain was deafening. 

“She had no other way!” he cried 
hysterically. “No, Thomas! No! She 
chose it! She chose it! Thom’s gift to 
you both.” 

The hammer swung. Crushed fin- 
gers left bloody marks upon the bal- 
cony. Simon crashed to the floor be- 
low and was still. 

“All of you knew!” Thomas Wyatt 
cried. He wrenched the loose stone 
away. Thorn watched him from the 
blackness through his half-opened 
eyes. Thomas could see every feature, 
every line. The mouth stretched in a 
mocking grin. The eyes narrowed; 
the nostrils flared. 

“Fool. Fool!” whispered the stone 
man. “But you cannot stop me now.” 

Thomas slapped his hand against 
the face. The blow stung his flesh. He 
reached for his chisel, placed the sharp 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

tool against one of the narrow eyes. 

“NO!” screeched Thorn. His face 
twisted and turned. The stone of 
the church shuddered and groaned. 
Thomas hesitated. A green glow came 
from the features of the diety. The 
eyes were wide with fear, the lips 
drawn back below the mask. Thomas 
raised his hammer. 

“NO!” screamed the head again. 
Arms reached from the wall. The 
light expanded. Thomas backed ofif, 
terrified by the specter that had ap- 
peared there, a ghastly green version 
of Thorn himself, a creature half 
ghost, half stone, tied to the wall of 
the church but reaching out from the 
cold rock, reaching for Thomas Wyatt, 
reaching to kill him. 

Thomas raised the chisel, raised 
the hammer. He ran back to the face 
of Thorn and, with a single, vicious 
blow, drove a gouging furrow through 
the right eye. 

The church shuddered. A block of 
stone fell from the high wall, striking 
Thomas on the shoulder. The whole 
gallery vibrated with Thorn’s pain 
and anger. 

Again he struck. The left eye crack- 
ed, a great split in the stone. Damp- 
ness oozed from the wound. The 
scream from the wall was deafening. 
Below the gallery, yellow light glim- 
mered: the watchman, staring up to 
where Thomas performed his deed of 

Then a crack appeared down the 
whole side of the church. The entire 

gallery where Thomas had worked 
dropped by a man’s height, and Thom- 
as was flung to the parapet. He strug- 
gled to keep his balance, then went 
over the wall, scrabbling at the air. 
Thom’s stone-scream was a night- 
mare sound. Air was cool on the ma- 
son’s skin. A stone pedestal broke his 
fall. Broke his back. 


■ he village woke to the sound of 
the priest’s terrible scream. He stum- 
bled from the Wyatts’ hous^, hands 
clutching at his eyes, trying to staunch 
the flow of blood. He scrabbled at the 
wood mask, stripping away the thorn, 
the oak, the crisp brown leaves, ex- 
posing dark hair, a trimmed dark 

The priest — Thorn’s priest- 
turned blind eyes to the church. Na- 
ked, he began to stagger and stumble 
toward the hill. Behind him the vil- 
lagers followed, torches burning in 
the night. 

Thomas lay across the marble pil- 
lar, a few feet from the ground. There 
was no sensation in his body, though 
his lungs expanded to draw air into 
his chest. He lay like a sacrificial vic- 
tim, arms above his head, legs limp. 
The watchman circled him in silence. 
The church was still. 

Soon the priest approached him, 
hands stretched out before him. the 
pierced orbs of his eyes glistened as 
he leaned close to Thomas Wyatt. 

“Are you dying, then?” 



“I died a few minutes ago,” Thom- 
as whispered. The priest’s hands on 
his face were gentle. Blood dripped 
from the savaged eyes. 

‘‘Another will come,” Thorn said. 
‘‘There are many of us. The work will 
be completed. The Lord of Wood di- 
rects us. No church will stand that is 
not a shrine to the true faith. The im- 
age of the Green will be in every one 
of them. The spirit of this Christ will 
find few havens in England.” 

‘‘Beth ” Thomas whispered. He 

could feel the bird of life struggling 
to escape him. The watchman’s torch 
was already dimming. 

Thorn raised Thomas’s head, a fin- 

ger across the dry lips. ‘‘You should 
not have seen,” said the priest. ‘‘It 
was a gift for a gift. Our skills, the way 
of ritual, of fertility, for your skill 
with stone. Another will come to re- 
place me. Another will be found to 
finish your work. But there will be 
no child for you now. No child for 

‘‘What have 1 done?” Thomas whis- 
pered. ‘‘By all that’s Holy, what have 1 

From above him, from a thousand 
miles away, came the ring of chisel 
on stone. 

‘‘Hurry,” he heard Thorn call into 
the night. “Hurry!” 

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Fantasy & Science Fiction 

When the Martians come, we know whaVs going on at the 
Department of State and on Pennsylvania Avenue, bat what's 
going to happen on the talk shows and on Seventh Avenue, spe- 
cifically at the Carnegie Delicatessen? Fred Pohl tells us in a 
rare and welcome short story. 





■I he young talent booker behind 
the desk was slim, quick, heavily eye- 
shadowed, and, Boccanegra decided, 
quite ugly, and he hated her. 

He didn’t much like her office 
either. It was tiny and bare. It didn’t 
do justice to one of the richest televi- 
sion networks in the world, and be- 
sides, the woman was watching the 
wrong program. All of this displeased 
Marchese Boccanegra. Not that he 
cared that somebody on the NBC 
payroll was sneaking looks at an of- 
fering of CBS, but the program the 
confounded woman was watching was 
a pickup from the spaceship Algon- 
quin, on its way back from Mars with 
a bunch of those equally confounded 
Martians aboard. Nasty-looking things! 
People said they looked a little bit 
like seals, but seals at least didn’t 
have spindly legs. No, they were defi- 
nitely hideous, although it wasn’t their 

looks that made Boccanegra dislike 

The woman giggled. “They’re 
cute,” she said, to Boccanegra or to 
no one. 

Boccanegra sighed — silently. He 
sat erect in his far from comfortable 
wooden chair, his hands folded re- 
posefiilly on his lap, his expression 
unchanging and his eyes half closed. 
He could see her well enough. Her 
nose was hardly more than a pug, and 
her teeth, although white enough and 
bright enough, were unacceptably 
long. She was at least as unattractive 
as the Martians, not to mention that 
she wasn’t treating him right. First 
there had been forty-five minutes in 
the waiting room outside, with all 
the jugglers and struggling comics 
and publicity agents for people who 
had just written a book. Then, when 
she did let him in, most of her atten- 



tion was on the TV screen, when 
what she should properly have been 
doing was to decide exactly when— 
Boccanegra did not allow himself to 
say “whether” — he would appear 
again on the “Today” show. 

Boccanegra didn’t realize his half- 
closed eyes had closed all the way 
until he heard her say irritably, 
“What’s the matter, are you asleep?” 

He opened his eyes slowly and 
gazed at her with the unfathomable 
look that had always gone so well on 
television. “I am not asleep,” he said 

She was looking less attractive than 
ever, because she was scowling at 
him, but at least she had turned 
off the television set. “I hope you 
wouldn’t fall asleep on the air,” she 
sniffed. “Sorry about that, but 1 had to 
watch. Anyway, how do you say your 

“Mar-KAY-say BOH-ka-NAY-gra.” 

“You can really get screwed up 
trying to say those foreign names on 
the air,” she said pensively. “What’s 
that first part, a title or a name?” 

He allowed himself to twinkle. “It 
is the name my parents bestowed on 
me,” he said, not truthfully. “It does 
in fact mean ‘marquis,’ but my family 
have not used a title for more than a 
hundred years.” That was not untruth- 
ful, technically, for they certainly 
hadn’t. Or before then, either, be- 
cause grape growers hardly ever had 

“In any case,” he went on smooth- 

ly, “I don’t know if you have had an 
opportunity to study my sitrep. This 
latest contact—” 

“What in the world is a sitrep?” 
“The situation report, that is. It 
details my latest contact with the 
Great Galactics, which is actually far 
more exciting than any I have expe- 
rienced before. 1 was meditating be- 
fore the fireplace in my summer home 
at Aspen, when suddenly the flames 
of the fire seemed to die away and a 
great golden presence emerged to—” 
‘Tou told me,” she said. “They 
talked to you. What I need to find out 
is what they said about the Martians.” 

“Martians? My dear woman, they 
aren’t Martians\ The Great Galactics 
come from so far beyond Mars that 
they are in another universe entirely, 
which we call the Theta band of 
consciousness— ” 

“Uh-uh. The people aren’t inter- 
ested in other universes right now, 
Mr. — ” she glanced at her notes and 
pronounced it, for a wonder, almost 
correctly — “Boccanegra. I’m book- 
ing a particular show. I’ve got one 
three-and-a-half-minute spot open, 
and the show’s about Mars. We’ve al- 
ready got Sagan, Bradbury, and some 
woman from NASA, and we need a— 
we need somebody like you, I mean. 
Now, you’ve had other experiences 
with flying saucers, right?” 

He said patiently, “ ‘Flying sauc- 
ers’ is a newspaper term. I don’t care 
for it. In my book. Ultimate Truth: 
The Amazing Riddle Behind the *Sau- 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

cer' Flaps, I expose the falsity of the 
so-called flying saucer stories. On the 
Theta level of reality, what we human 
beings perceive as ‘saucers’ are real- 


“No, but, whatever they were, did 
any of them come from Mars?’* 

“Of course not!’’ Then he added 
hastily, “Naturally, on the other hand, 
most of the so-called Martian myster- 
ies are explained in my book — as, 
for example, the huge stone sculp- 
ture of a human face that appears on 
Mars in—” 

“No, no, no face. We’ve already 
got the guy who wrote the book do- 
ing that on the 8:18 spot on Tuesday. 
Anything else about Mars?” she asked, 
glancing at her watch. 

“No,” said Bpccanegra, coming to 
a decision. He had been in the busi- 
ness long enough to know when to 
cut his losses. She wasn’t buying. He 
would not do the “Today” show on 
the basis of this interview. All he 
could do was to try to keep the lines 
open for the future. 

As she was opening her mouth for 
the don’t-call-us-we’ll-call-you, he 
widened his eyes and said quickly, 
“Oh, just a moment, do you mean 
next week? 1 am so terribly sorry! My 
staff must have got the dates wrong, 
because next week I have to be at a 
conference in Washington.” He gave 
the woman a meager, forbearing smile 
as he stood up and shrugged apolo- 

As he picked up the gray suede 

gloves and gold-handled walking 
stick, the woman said, “Well, ac- 

“No, I insist,” Boccanegra cut in. 
“It’s entirely my fault. Good day!” 
And he was gone, not even pausing to 
admire his reflection in the full- 
length mirror on the back of her 
door. It was just as it ought to be any- 
way. Tall, spare figure in the severely 
cut black suit, the moon-white stock 
gleaming at his throat and the white 
carnation in his lapel, he was exactly 
as striking and vaguely sinister a spec- 
tacle as he set out to be. Color, the 
well-meaning had said to him. IVs all 
color on the TV now. And it was; but 
for exactly that reason, Marchese Boc- 
canegra had stood out in his stark 
black and white on the talk shows 
and panels. 

Had once, anyway. There weren’t 
as many of them anymore. You could 
even go further: There practically 
were none at all, and the big reason 
for that was the Martians. How they 
had ruined it for everybody! 

Passing through the waiting room, 
Boccanegra gave the receptionist a 
quick four-flngered wave — it was 
the benediction and greeting of the 
Great Galactics, as he had demon- 
strated it for more than thirty years in 
the field. But she didn’t seem to rec- 
ognize it. No matter. Boccanegra took 
the carnation from his buttonhole 
and laid it caressingly before her (a 
receptionist who remembered you 
could make all the difference!) be- 



fore pacing out to the hall, where he 
tapped the elevator button with the 
head of his cane. 

Only when the door had opened 
and he stepped inside did he say in 
surprise, “Anthony! 1 didn’t expect to 
see you here!” 

The month was May and the day 
warm. But Anthony Makepeace Moore 
wore full regalia, fur-collared coat 
and black slouch hat. His expression 
was more startled than pleased — so 
was Boccanegra’s own — but the two 
men greeted each other with the ef- 
fusion of colleagues and competitors. 
“Marchese!” Moore cried, wringing 
his hand. “It’s been too long, hasn’t 
it? I suppose you’ve been granting in- 
terviews, too?’’ 

Boccanegra permitted himself a 
wry smile. “I had intended to appear 
on the Today’ show,’’ he said, “but 
the appearance they wanted me to 
make is unfortunately out of the ques- 
tion. And you?’’ 

“Oh, nothing as glamorous as the 
Today’ show,’’ smiled Moore. “I was 
just taping a few radio bits for the 
network news.’’ 

“I’ll be sure to listen,’’ Boccane- 
gra promised, the generosity of his 
tone almost completely concealing 
the envy. The network! It had been at 
least two years since any network 
news organization had cared to have 
Marchese Boccanegra say anything 
for their^ listeners — and now that 
they’d done Moore, it would certain- 
ly be awhile before they wanted any- 

one else. There was a time — a pretty 
long-ago time, now — when the two 
of them had done publicity appear- 
ances together. But that was when 
the alien-encounter business was 
booming. The fact was, now there 
just wasn’t enough to share. 

So Boccanegra was surprised when 
Moore looked at his aviator’s watch 
with the three dials and said diffi- 
dently, “I suppose you’re in a great 
hurry to get to your next engage- 

“As a matter of fact,’’ Boccanegra 
began, and then hesitated. He fin- 
ished, “As a matter of fact. I’m a bit 
hungry. 1 was thinking of a sandwich 
somewhere — would you care to join 

Moore courteously bowed him 
out first as the elevator reached the 
ground floor. “I’d like that a lot, Mar- 
chese,’’ he said warmly. “Anyplace in 
particular? Something ethnic, per- 
haps? You know how I like odd foods, 
and we don’t get much of them in 

“I know just the place!’’ cried 

The very place was the Carnegie 
Delicatessen, half a dozen blocks from 
the RCA Building, and both of them 
had known it well. 

As they walked up Seventh Avenue, 
people glanced at them curiously. 
Where Boccanegra was tall, hawklike, 
and aloof, Anthony Makepeace Moore 
was short and round. He wore bushy 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

white sideburns on a head that had 
no other hair but bushy white eye- 
brows. He would have been plump 
even in a bathing suit — so one sup- 
posed; no one had ever seen him in 
one — but his standard costume — 
winter, spring, and fall — was a bulky 
coat trimmed with what might well 
pass for ermine. It made him appear 
even rounder. As much as anything, 
Moore resembled a fat leprechaun. 

What he wore in the summer was 
quite different, because in the sum- 
mer he spent his time on the five 
hundred acres of his Eudorpan Astral 
Retreat, just outside of Enid, Okla- 
homa. There he wore the robes of the 
Eudorpan Masters. So did everyone 
else on the premises, though not all 
in the same colors. Seekers (the pay- 
ing guests) wore lavender. Adepts (the 
staff) wore gold. Moore himself, tak- 
ing a cue from the pope at Rome, 
never appeared in anything but spot- 
less and freshly laundered white. 

At the delicatessen, Boccanegra 
stepped courteously aside to let 
Moore go first through the revolving 
door. It was midaftemoon, but there 
was a short line waiting, and the two 
men exchanged amused glances. 
“Fame,” whispered Moore, and Boc- 
canegra nodded. 

- “Your picture used to hang right 
there, next to the fan,” he said. 

“And yours over by the door,” 
Moore agreed. “And now they don’t 
even remember who we are.” The 
cashier, overhearing, looked at them 

curiously, but no identification came 
before their table was ready. 

When Moore took off his coat, he 
revealed a red and white checked 
sport shirt underneath. “No robes 
today?” Boccanegra asked. The only 
answer he got was a frosty look. Then 
Moore began to pore over the menu, 
and his expression softened. 

“That good old pastrami,” he said 
sentimentally. “Remember the tons 
of it at WOR? And Long John begging 
us to take some home because there’d 
be a new batch the next night?” 

“That’s where we met, isn’t it?” 
Boccanegra asked, knowing exactly 
that it was. The all-night Long John 
Nebel show had, in fact, given both of 
them their start in the alien-contact 
industry. “Remember the Mystic Bar- 
ber, with that tinfoil crown he always 

“And Barney and Betty Hill, and 
the Two Men in Black, and Will Our- 
sler, and — oh God, Marco,” Moore 
said, rolling his eyes, “we didn’t know 
when we had it good, did we? We 
were so young!” 

“And no damned Martians to take 
people’s minds off us,” Boccanegra 
grumbled. “Are you ready to order?” 

They passed reminiscences back 
and forth while they were waiting for 
their food to arrive — Long John and 
his wonderful scams, the revolving 
Empire State Building, the bridge off 
the RCA tower and all; and not only 
Long John but every other broadcast 
medium. They all seemed willing to 



give airtime to talk about intelli- 
gences from other worlds — network 
TV and little local radio stations 
where you had to crouch between 
record turntables and hand a single 
microphone around the guests. 

“We were so young/’ Moore said 
dreamily, pouring ketchup on his 
french fries. 

“Remember Lonny Zamorra?’* Boc- 
canegra asked. 

“And the spaceport at Giant 

“And the mutilated cows? And the 
car engines that got stopped? And, oh 
God, the Bermuda Triangle! Good 
Lord,’’ said Boccanegra earnestly, “I 
can think of at least a dozen people 
that lived for years on just the Ber- 
muda Triangle. You know what they 
were getting for a single lecture} Not 
counting the books and the work- 
shops and —’’ He trailed off. 

“And everything,’’ said Moore som- 
berly. They ate in silence for a mo- 
ment, thinking of the days when the 
world had been so eager to hear what 
they had to say. 

In those days, everyone wanted to 
give them a voice. Radio, television, 
press coverage; there was nothing 
anyone might say about flying sau- 
cers, or men from another planet, or 
mysterious revelations received in a 
trance, or astral voyages to other 
worlds that did not get an audience. 
A paying audience. Both Moore and 
Boccanegra had had their pick of col- 
lege lecture dates and handsome hon- 

oraria — enough for Boccanegra to 
start The Press of Ultimate Truth, 
Inc., to print his books; enough for 
Moore to buy the tract of played-out 
Oklahoma grazing land that became 
the Eudorpan Astral Retreat. Both 
had flourished wildly. There was no 
end to the customers for Boccane- 
gra’s books, more than fifteen titles 
in all, or to the Seekers who gladly 
paid a month’s wages to spend a 
week in their lavender robes, eating 
lentils and raw onions out of EAR’S 
wooden bowls (and sneaking off to 
the truck stop just outside the retreat 
for hamburgers and sinful beer), and 
listening worshipfully to Moore’s reve- 

When the last of the pastrami and 
fries were gone, Moore leaned back 
and signaled for a coffee refill. He 
looked thoughtfully at Boccanegra 
and said, “I’ve been looking forward 
to your new book. Is it out yet?’’ 

“It’s been* held up,’’ Boccanegra 
explained. Actually it was a year over- 
due, and the new book wasn’t going 
to appear until the bills for the last 
one were paid, and that didn’t seem 
likely in the near future. “Of course,’’ 
he added with as near a smile as he 
ever allowed himself in public, “the 
timing might be better later on. It’s 
all Martians now, isn’t it?’’ 

Moore was startled. “Are you writ- 
ing a book about the Martians?’’ he 

“Me? Of course not,’’ Boccanegra 
said virtuously. “Oh, there are charla- 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

tans who’ll be doing that, no doubt. 
I’ll bet there are a dozen of the old 
guard trying to change their stories 
around to cash in on the Martians.” 

“Shocking,” Moore agreed with a 
straight face. 

“Anyway, I’ve about decided to 
take a sort of sabbatical. This fad will 
run its course. Perhaps in a few 
months it’ll be the right time for my 
book, which tells how the Great Ga- 
lactics have provided us with the ge- 
netic code that explains all of the 
mysteries of—” 

“Yeah,” said Moore, staring into 
space. His expression did not suggest 
that he liked what he was seeing. 

Boccanegra studied his ancient ad- 
versary. It didn’t look like a very good 
time to bring up the sudden inspira- 
tion that had come to him in the ele- 
vator. Moore sounded depressed. 

But there would never be a better 
time, so Boccanegra plunged in. “I’ve 
been thinking,” he said. 

Moore focused on him. ‘Tes?” 

Boccanegra waved a deprecating 
hand. “I’ll probably have some free 
time for a while. Perhaps the whole 
summer. So, I wonder — would you 
be interested in having me as a sort of 
guest lecturer at the retreat?” Moore’s 
eyes widened under the bushy eye- 
brows, but he didn’t speak. Boccane- 
gra went on ingratiatingly, “Since I’m 
at liberty, I mean. Of course, we’d 
have to make some special arrange- 
ment. It wouldn’t be appropriate for 
me to be there just as part of your 

staff. Some new ]x>sition? Perhaps 1 
could wear black robes? Naturally the 
financial arrangements could be work- 
ed out — professional courtesy and 
all that,” he finished with a twinkle. 

The twinkle dried up. Moore’s ex- 
pression was stony. “No chance,” he 

Boccanegra felt the muscles in his 
throat begin to tighten. “No chance, ’’ 
he repeated, trying to keep the sud- 
den anger out of his voice. “Well, if 
it’s the robes—” 

“It isn’t the robes,” said Anthony 
Makepeace Moore. 

“No, it wouldn’t be that. 1 sup- 
pose, since you and I have been pret- 
ty much opponents for so long—” 

“Marco,” said Moore sadly, “I don’t 
give a shit about that. I can’t take you 
on at the retreat because there isn’t 
going to be any retreat this year. I 
haven’t got the customers. This time 
I should have forty or fifty people reg- 
istered — some years I’ve had a hun- 
dred! You know how many I’ve got 
now? Two. And one of those is only a 
maybe.” He shook his head. “The 
whole thing’s down the tube if some- 
thing good doesn’t happen. The bank’s 
been on my back about the mortgage, 
and they put in that damn interstate, 
and even the truck stop’s losing 
money every week—” 

Boccanegra was startled. “I didn’t 
know you owned the truck stop!” 

’Well, this time next month 1 prob- 
ably won’t. They even took out the 
Coke machine.” 



Boccanegra sat in thoughtful si- 
lence for a moment. Then he laughed 
out loud and waved to the grouchy 
waitress for more coffee. 

‘Tou, too/* he said. “Well, let’s 
put our heads together and see if we 
can figure something out.” 

By the time of the fourth refill, the 
waitress was muttering audibly to 

The problem wasn’t just the fickle 
tastes of the public. It was the Mar- 
tians. There simply was no room for 
imaginary wonders in the public at- 
tention when the real thing was get- 
ting a few hundred miles closer to 
Earth every day. And the unfair part 
of it was that the Martians were so 
damned dull. They didn’t have spirit- 
ual counseling for the troubled bil- 
lions of Earth. They didn’t warn of 
impending disasters or offer hope of 
salvation, they just stood there in 
their stalls on the spaceship Algon- 
quin, swilling their scummy soup. 

“1 guess you’ve gone over all your 
books to see if there’s anything about 
Martians in them?’’ Moore said hope- 

Boccanegra shook his head. “I 
mean, yes, I looked. Nothing.’’ 

“Me, too,’’ Moore sighed. “I’ll tell 
you the truth, Marco. I never for one 
minute considered the possibility that 
when we were visited by creatures 
from outer space, they would be stu- 
pid. Say!’’ he cried, sitting up. “What 
if we say they aren’t real? I mean. 

they’re like the household pets of the 
real Eudorpans?’’ 

“The Great Galactics,’’ Boccane- 
gra corrected eagerly. “Or maybe not 
pets but, you know, like false clues 
the superior space beings put there 
to throw us off the trail?’’ 

“And we can say we’ve had revela- 
tions about it, and — well, hell Mar- 
co,’’ said Moore, suddenly facing real- 
ity. “Would anyone believe us?’’ 

“Has that ever made any differ- 

“No, but really, it’d be good if we 
had some kind of, you know, evi- 

“Evidence,” Boccanegra said 

“See, these Martians will actually 
be here in a few months, right? Next 
thing you know, they’ll be landing, 
and they’ll be in a zoo or something, 
and people can see them for them- 
selves. They kind of talk a little bit, 
you know. Maybe they’d say some- 
thing that could blow us right out of 
the water.’’ 

“They really are stupid, Tony.’’ 

“Yes, but Marco, if they’ve got 
some kind of writings that we don’t 
know about, because all we’ve ever 
seen is what they sent on the TV from 
the spaceship—” 

“But maybe they’re degenerate,” 
Boccanegra cried, “so they don’t know 
what the stuff really means!” 

“Well,” Moore said doggedly, 
“there might be a real problem there, 
all the same. If we wait until they 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

land — Then he shook his head. 
“Scratch that. We can’t wait that long; 
at least I can’t. I could stall the credi- 
tors for maybe a month or two, but 
the spaceship isn’t going to land till 
nearly Christmas.’’ 

“And this is only June.’’ Boccane- 
gra puzzled for a moment; there had 
been, he was almost sure, something 
good they had come quite close to. 
But what was it? 

“How about,’’ said Moore, “if we 
found some other Martians?’’ 

Boccanegra frowned. “Besides the 
ones they’ve found, you mean? Some- 
where else on Mars?’’ 

“Not necessarily on Mars. But the 
same sort of creatures, maybe on Ve- 
nus, maybe on the Moon — we say 
they live in caves, see? So nobody’s 
seen them; that’s what they do on 
Mars, right? There could even have 
been some long ago on — what’s its 
name, that moon of Jupiter that’s al- 
ways having volcanic eruptions— only 
the volcanoes killed them off.’’ 

“Um,’’ said Boccanegra. “Yeah, 
maybe.’’ He was scowling in concen- 
tration, because that faint ringing of 
cash registers was still in his ears, 
only he couldn’t quite tell where it 
came from. “I don’t see where we 
get any kind of evidence that way, 
though,’’ he pointed out. “I’d like it if 
we had something right here on Earth 
about that.’’ 

“O.K., Antarctica! There’s a col- 
ony of them on Antarctica; or at least 
there used to be, but they died of 

cold after the continents migrated.’’ 

“There are people all over Antarc- 
tica, Tony. Russians and Americans 
and everybody.’’ 

“Well, at the bottom of the sea?’’ 

“They’ve got those robot subma- 
rines going down there all the time.’’ 

“Sure,’’ Moore said, improvising, 
“but those are all U.S. Navy or some- 
thing, aren’t they? The subs have seen 
all the proof in the world, but the 
government’s covering up.’’ 

“That’s good,’’ Boccanegra said 
thoughtfully. “Let’s see if I’ve got the 
picture. There were beings like these 
Martians all over the Solar System 
once. Of course, they’re not really 
’Martians.’ It’s just that the first live 
specimens that turned up were on 
Mars, all right? They’ve been on Earth, 
too, ever since the time the Great Ga- 
lactics came — the people from Planet 
Theta, too,’’ he added quickly. “And 
all these years they’ve been hiding 
down there, exerting an influence on 
what has happened to the human 
race. It hasn’t all been good: wars, 

“Crazy fads,’’ Moore put in. 

“Right! All the things that have 
gone wrong, it’s because these Mar- 
tians have been willing it; they’ve de- 
generated and become evil. We don’t 
call them Martians, of course. We call 
them something like Emissaries, or 
Guardians, or — what’s a bad kind of 

“Dead Souls,’’ said Moore trium- 



“Sure, they’re Dead Souls. Sounds 
kind of Russian, but that’s not bad 
either. And they’ve been in Antarcti- 
ca under the ice and — Aw, no,’’ he 
said, disappointed. “It won’t work. 
We can’t get to Antarctica.’’ 


“So how do we get evidence that 
there really are Dead Souls there?’’ 

“I don’t really see why you keep 
harping on evidence,’’ Moore said 

“I don’t mean evidence like find- 
ing a real, live Dead Soul kind of Mar- 
tian,’’ Boccanegra explained. “You 
know. We need some sort of mes- 
sage. Mystic drawings. Carvings. Some- 
thing like the Cuzco lines, or the 
rune stone. Of course,’’ he explained, 
“they wouldn’t be in any Earthly lan- 
guage. We work out translations. Par- 
tial translations, because we don’t 
give the whole thing at once; we 
keep translating new sections as we 
go along.’’ 

“We get the key from Planet The- 
ta in a trance,’’ Moore said helpfully. 

“Or astral projection,’’ Boccane- 
gra nodded, “from the Great Galac- 
tics.’’ He thought for a moment, and 
then said wistfully, “But it would be 
better if we had something to take 
photographs of. I always put photo- 
graphs in my books; they really make 
a difference, Tony.’’ 

“Maybe we could crack open some 
rocks, like Richard Shaver? And find 
mystic drawings in the markings?’’ 

“I don’t like to repeat what any- 

body else has done,’’ Boccanegra said 
virtuously. “And I don’t know where 
Shaver got the rocks, either. Maybe in 
a cave, or—’’ 

He stopped in mid-sentence, the 
ringing of the cash bells now loud 
and clear. They stared at each other. 

“A cave,’’ Moore whispered. 

“Not under the ocean. Under the 
ground! Tony! Are there any caves 
under the retreat?’’ 

“Not a one,’’ Moore said regret- 
fully. “I didn’t think of that when I 
bought the tract. But listen, there are 
millions of caves all over. All we have 
to do is find one big one with a lot of 
passages no one ever goes into—’’ 

“'Hiere are lots right along the 
Mississippi River,” Boccanegra 
chimed in. “There’s even the Mam- 
moth Cave, or Carlsbad — why, there 
are some in Pennsylvania that haven’t 
even been explored much.’’ 

“And then maybe I can say I’ve 
seen the carvings while I was in astral 

“And then 1 can actually go there 
and discover them and take pictures!’’ 
Boccanegra finished triumphantly. “I 
wouldn’t say where they came from 
at first—’’ 

“—until we got a chance to put 
the drawings there—’’ 

“—and nobody would argue, be- 
cause everybody knows you and I 
have never worked together—’’ 

“—and they’d be kind of like Shav- 
er’s Deros— ’’ 

“—only not deranged robots; 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

they’ll look like the Martians, be- “And I’ll go right down to the li- 
cause they’re the same Dead Souls, brary and start looking up caves,’’ 
and they mess everything up for hu- Moore said. “And we don’t want to 
manity because they’re evil—’’ be seen too much together, so what 

“And we’ll split the money?’’ do you say we just get together for a 
Moore cried. “You do your books. I’ll minute later on tonight, say about 
do the retreats. Maybe along about seven?’’ 

Labor Day, you and I can have a pub- “Lobby of the Grand Hyatt,’’ Boc- 
lic reconciliation, submerging our old canegra agreed. He clapped his hands 
differences because now we’ve dis- imperiously at the waitress, sulking 
covered this ultimate reality not even by the kitchen door. She came over 
we suspected before—’’ and dropped the check in front of 

“—and I can come to the re- him. 
treats—’’ “I’ll get the tip,’’ Moore offered, 

“And, sure, you can have black pulling out a handful of silver. Boc- 
robes,’’ Moore said generously. “Mar- canegra, back in character, merely 
CO, it’s doable! The good old days are inclined his head in silent agreement, 
coming back, for sure!’’ although inside he was marking up 

the mental ledger: 19. 50 for the pas- 
The two men smiled at each oth- trami sandwiches, and only five quar- 
er, their minds racing. Then Moore ters for the tip; next time they would 
said, “What about the ‘Today’ show? eat in a better place and he would 
That’d be a great place to start, if you take-care of the tip. As he waited for 
can get in?’’ the cashier to fill out the slip on the 

Boccanegra pursed his lips. Thank one remaining valid credit card, Boc- 
heaven he’d sweetened the reception- canegra said suddenly, “My cane!’’ He 
ist; she’d let him in, probably, and hurried back to the table before the 
then he could just walk in on the waitress got there and picked up two 
booking woman; then it would just of the quarters. Then he rejoined An- 
be a matter of how fast he could talk, thony Makepeace Moore at the door, 
“At least fifty-fifty,’’ he estimated, “if I and the two prophets went out into 
get back to NBC before the offices the world they were about to con- 
close.’’ quer. 



At one of those college literary 
bashes where The Celebrated Visit- 
ing Author sits alone on the stage and 
academics with clipboards pelt him 
or her with “insightful” questions, I 
was recently hit with the poser, “What 
is your definition of maturity?” 

I thought about that for a moment 
before answering. 

And in that moment, here is the 
anecdote that flashed through my 
head, that I did not impart to the gath- 
ered sages: 

Most of you know by now that my 
friend Mike Model, host for more 
than fifteen years of the Hour 25 
radio show on KPFK-FM in Los An- 
geles, died of brain cancer on Tues- 
day, May 6th. Because he learned of 
his terminal state in February, and 
because the continuation of the pro- 
gram was a matter of concern to him, 
Mike came to visit and we talked 
about the darkness soon to come; 
and Mike asked me to host the show 
for him when he was gone. Because I 
loved him, and because his show has 
been so important to writers and 
readers of the genre for so long, I 
agreed to take over Hour 25. 

But the foreknowledge of Mike's 
imminent leavetaking, added to the 
weight of the deaths of so many close 
friends these last few months, sent 
me into a tailspin. My thoughts grew 

Copyright • 1996 by The KtUmanjaro Corporation. 

Installment 19: In Wbicb We Long 
For Tbe Stillness Of Tbe Lake, Tbe 
Smooth Stvell Of Tbe Sea 


Fantaiy & Science FktkMi 

wearier and grimmer by the day. Un- 
til the anguish and the pressure be- 
gan to produce a sharp pain behind 
my left eye. 

As 1 am one of those blessed indi- 
viduals who almost never get head- 
aches, this sharp needlepoint of ag- 
ony behind my left eye came to obsess 
me. I knew very well, in my right 
mind, that I did not share Mike's ill- 
ness; but every time the pain returned, 
I tumbled into the abyss of irrational- 
ity and thought, ‘i’ve got brain cancer. 
There’s a gray pudding on the grow 
back there behind my eye.” It was 
crazy; and when I saw Woody Allen’s 
Hannah and Her Sisters in the mid- 
dle of March, and Woody went 
through exactly the same hypochon- 
driacal situation, I laughed at myself. 
But I could not shake the terrible 
thought, and finally I made an ap- 
pointment with John Romm, who has 
been my doctor for decades, and I 
went to find out if I was more irra- 
tional than usual. 

John examined me, put the light 
up to the eye and looked in, and re- 
ported back that there didn’t seem to 
be anything in there pressing against 
the optic nerve. “Shouldn’t I get a 
brain scan?’* I said. “Well, if you’re 
thinking about something like that, 
there’s better state of the art than a 
CAT scan. It’s called an MRI and it 
costs about a grand.” 


“Magnetic Resonance Imaging. 
About a grand. But if you can’t get 

this lunacy out of your mind, spend 
the money and put yourself at ease.” 

“I’ll think about it.” 

So I thought about it. For several 
weeks. Went to see Mike in Cedars- 
Sinai Medical Center, couldn’t rid 
myself of the horror, and finally went 
in for the MRI. The next day, John 
called to report the findings on the 
images. ‘Tou’re fine,” he said. “No 
problems in there at all.” 

1 felt the edge of the desk 1 had 
been gripping for the first instant 
since I’d picked up his call, and real- 
ized how mad I’d been driven by 
Mike’s situation. The pain behind my 
eye vanished instantly. 

Then I heard John chuckling. 
“What’s so goddam funny?” I de- 
manded, feeling more the fool than 

“Well, it’s just something the tech- 
nician who sent these over said,” 
John replied, trying to keep a straight 

“Yeah? And what was that?” 

“Uh, well ... he asked me, ‘Are 
you sure this guy is almost fifty-two 
years old?’ And I said, yes, I was cer- 
tain; that I’d known you for years and 
that I knew you’d be fifty-two in May, 
and he said, ‘This is remarkable for a 
guy his age. The actual brain matter 
looks like that of a six-year-old boy.’ ” 
And John broke up again. When he 
had it under control he said, “I al- 
ways suspected you had the brain of a 

That was what I thought in the 

Harlan HKkni’s Watching 


moment before answering the aca- 
demics. Because it was the anecdote 
that informed what I’ve always con- 
sidered to be a pretty workable defi- 
nition of maturity. And I said to the 
questioner, “I take to mean, when 
you say maturity, that you’re asking 
what I think an adult is. And my 
answer is that being grown-up means 
having achieved in adult terms what 
you dreamed of being as a child. In 
other words, you’d be mature, and an 
adult grown-up, if — say — when you 
were a kid you wanted to be a cow- 
boy and now you owned a cattle 
ranch. Or if you wanted to fly like 
Superman when you were a kid, if 
you were now an airline pilot.” 

And I added this quotation from 
Rimbaud: ‘‘Genius is the recovery of 
childhood at will.” 

These thoughts, as random as most 
with which I open this column every 
time, tie in with observations about 
childish and adult visions of what to 
make as a motion picture in an era 
when the studios check the growth- 
rings of writers and directors before 
they commit to a project. 

As rare as it has been in the his- 
tory of motion picture writing for 
talent of a high order to emerge— 
Richard Brooks, James Goldman, 
Richard L. Breen, Paddy Chayefsky, 
Herman Mankiewicz, Ring Lardner, 
Jr. and the Epstein brothers come 
immediately to mind, though the list 
is a lot longer than you’d care to have 
me reproduce here and, sad sad sad. 

you wouldn’t recognize the names of 
those who dreamed the dreams and 
put the words into the mouths of Bo- 
gart and Lancaster and Bergman and 
McQueen — as rare as it’s been till 
now, the situation today is fuckin’ 
bloody tragic. We operate in The Age 
of the Know-Nothing Tots. 

Kids raised not on literature, or 
even on films, but on television re- 
runs, are being hired every minute to 
write and produce films that have the 
social import and artistic longevity of 

(Here are some grim statistics. 
The current membership of the Writ- 
ers Guild of America, West is 6181. 
Of that number only 5 1 % is currently 
employed. That’s 3152 men and wom- 
en. But of percentage, while 61% 
of WGAw members under forty years 
of age are working, only 43% over 
forty have a job. Don’t ask what it’s 
like for directors. ) 

The deals being made at Cannon, 
at Fox, at Paramount and Universal, 
are deals for projects brought to ex- 
ecutives by second-rate and deriva- 
tive talents. Deals brought to men 
and women whose backgrounds are 
seldom in filmmaking, whose exper- 
tise and store of literary precedents 
is at best meager. (This is a series of 
generalizations. Of course not every- 
one who sells a script, or more usual- 
ly a script idea, is a superannuated 
surfer. There are Larry Kasdans and 
Vickie Patiks and Tom Benedeks who 
have as much elan as Shelagh Delany 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

or Harold Ramis or Horton Foote at 
the top of their form. But the general- 
ization speaks unquaveringly to the 
reality of the industry practice to- 
day. The young and dumb sell to the 
only slightly less young and much 
dumber. ) 

These deals being made, and the 
films often made as a result of the 
deals, are films that cannot be viewed 
or critiqued by standards that have 
always obtained for literature, mov- 
ies or even television segments. 

Consider: we learn from the trade 
papers that filmgoing dropped an- 
other 15% last year. We learn that 
more and more of the audience that 
used to go out to, say, a movie a 
week, now stays home and watches 
videocassettcs. The weekly opening 
of movies convinces us that over- 
whelmingly the theater-viewing au- 
dience is made up of teenagers. In 
the week that I write this column, 
here is what dominates the screens of 
Los Angeles, not much different from 
the screens where you live: 

Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink; 
Judd Nelson in Blue City; Sean Penn 
in i4f Close Range; Band of the Hand; 
Nicolas Cage in The Boy in Blue; Ally 
Sheedy in Short Circuit; Dangerously 
Close; Fire with Fire; Echo Park; Free 
Ride; Girls Just Want to Have Fun; 
Lucas and Top Gun with Tom Cruise. 

These are all films either about 
teenagers, or starring teenagers 
(though most of them are now in 
their twenties . . . the Brat Pack be- 

gins to creak and suffer morning ar- 
thritis). Most of them belabor the 
rite of passage, the dawn of sexuality, 
the pair-bonding of prep school twits, 
or the confusion of mid-life crisis oc- 
curing at age eighteen. 

And one realizes, with a shock, 
that the traditional basics for review- 
ing films is inapplicable these days. 
One cannot, at peril of being hincty 
and irrelevent, evaluate a film on the 
merits of screenwriting, editing, di- 
rection or even design. None of these 
staples seem to matter to the mer- 
chandisers of modern films. Apart 
from splashy special effects (which is 
a criterion that has begun to pall for 
even the most unjudgmental Kalli- 
kak), the sole criterion of a movie’s 
worth — looney! lunatic! loopy! — is 
if the soundtrack can be melded to 
2-second snippets of the action se- 
quences to form a music video for 
MTV, producing, of course, a gold 

It doesn’t matter if the film is a 
medieval fantasy ( Ladyhawke ), a con- 
temporary aerobatics adventure ( Top 
Gun ), a western ( Silverado ), an Ed- 
die Murphy-clone cop rampage (Run- 
ning Scared), or retold fairy tales 
(Legend, Company of Wolves). All 
that counts is that a sound is pro- 
duced that can function in the sec- 
ondary markets for appeal only to 
those who cannot listen to music in 
anything under 200 decibels. That 
the music doesn’t fit, that the music 
jars, that the music distracts and 

Harlan Ellison’s Watching 


blunts the mood of scene after scene, 
seems not to enter into considera- 
tion by those responsible for the film’s 
artistic gestalt. 

It is adolescent adults playing 3- 
card monte with the captive kiddie 
audience, or actual tots saying fiick 
you to the rest of the world, both 
younger and older. 

This cynical pandering to the 
sophomoric, unformed and utterly 
undiscriminating hungers of a juve- 
nile audience disenfranchises the rest 
of us, both younger and older than 
the demographic wedge that buys 
rock music ... or worse, that even 
smaller wedge that doesn’t buy but 
merely derives its calorie-poor musi- 
cal diet from watching television\ 

Take SHORT CIRCUIT (Tri-Star) 
and LEGEND (Universal) as speci- 
mens under the microscope. 

Short Circuit is nothing more than 
a sappy replay of E. T. with a cuddly, 
anthropomorphized runaway robot 
replacing a cuddly etcetera etcetera 
alien. It is last year’s DA.R.Y.L Mzt- 
tinized and reworn. (Only difference 
is that Barrett Oliver as the robot in 
DA.R.Y.L had his gears and cogs and 
chips camouflaged, while No. 5 in 
Short Circuit has metal in view. ) Both 
films paint authority as not merely 
inept and evil-with-a-Three-Stooges 
silliness, but as implacably stupid and 

Granted, Short Circuit posits the 
philosophical position that violence 
and killing are not nice things to do, 

which is a salutary message in this era 
of Cobra and Ramho\ nonetheless it 
is a film that panders to the youth 
audience by giving them two of the 
three staples of all these teen-slanted 

What are the three? 

1) Bare tits. (Absent from this 
movie, presumably because Ally 
Sheedy, the omnipresent Ally Sheedy, 
is such a box office draw that she 
doesn’t have to bare her bosom.) 

2 ) Disdain for authority. 

3 ) Casual destruction of personal 
and public property. 

No. 5 is just a kid, after all. It may 
be a kid with molybdenum paws, that 
runs on trunnions instead of sneak- 
ers, but it’s just a kid. And, like James 
Dean, it is having a hard time learning 
who is it. It suffers existential angst 
in trying to reconcile the creative 
abilities of humans with the species’s 
need to slaughter. It is the same, tired 
rebel without a cause yarn. It invests 
the young with a nobility that is un- 
possessed, presumably, by anyone 
over the age of twenty-one. 

Short Circuit did big ticket busi- 
ness, but no amount of giving-the- 
benefit for its anti-killing aspect can 
disguise the fact that this plate of 
spinach is a manipulative, sappy truck- 
ling to teen hungers and fantasies. 
And having Steve Guttenberg stand- 
ing around like something carved 
from Silly Putty don’t help beat the 
bulldog, if you catch my drift. 

Yet Short Circuit soared. I suggest 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

this phenomenal turn of events can 
be linked to the promotion of the 
film via music videos and its totemi- 
zation of adolescent rebellion fanta- 
sies. It sure as hell couldn’t have been 
on the basis of freshness of material 
or superlative acting. 

It is a kiddie film, made by adults 
pretending to have the souls of the 
pure and innocent. Porky, duded up 
like Peter Pan. 

A sidebar thought, probably deep- 
er that we have space here to ex- 
plore: is film rendering our impres- 
sion of the mutable world meaning- 

For more than sixty years we have 
received a good proportion of our 
understanding of the world around 
us from movies. Film was seldom at 
the cutting edge of the culture in 
portraying trends, but as soon as a 
trend became clear, movies were in 
there, commenting on it, well or bad- 
ly. On the Waterfront may have come 
to the subject of labor corruption 
late in the game, but when it came, it 
made its position known. America 
took notice. Saturday Night Fever 
may look cornball today, only nine 
years later, with its stacked-heel 
disco boots and its Nik-Nik shirts, but 
it drove America into a spin when the 
Bee Gees and Travolta made their 
statement about the social set that 
lived and foamed in disco palaces. 
(And it was only about five years in- 
to the trend before it got the wind 
up; pretty good for an essentially con- 

servative industry.) 

But is this ability to mirror the 
world still operating in the main- 
stream of motion pictures? 

I think not. The numbers are 
skewed, the facts distorted, the pic- 
ture out of focus. One of those Polar- 
oid shots in which everything comes 
out roast beef red. Such films as Short 
Circuit — the sf version of a typical 
teen rebellion flick — send us a view 
of the world that resembles “The 
Lord of the Flies’* more than it does 
reality. Kids run everything in these 
movies. Either kids grown a little 
older, like Guttenberg and Sheedy 
and Cage and Estavez and Moore, or 
kids in their native habitat, like Nel- 
son and Macchio. 

It was bad enough when movies 
beat us about the blades to accept 
obscurantism and illogic like Amity- 
ville as the secret formula to under- 
stand Life, but the current flood of 
discarded immaturity that pretends 
to be How It Is looks real, no matter 
how twisted and bent. And this, 1 
submit, is hardly the meal we need to 
enrich us. 

They are films that reject matur- 
ity, even in the loose terms I suggest- 
ed at the outset of this essay. 

Films made that play to childish 
(not childlike) ideas of what the Eter- 
nal Verities might be. 

Films that sell smash-cut music 
videos to an audience with only dawn- 
ing responsibility toward itself and 
its Times, an audience with too much 

Harlan Ellison’s Watching 


money burning a hole in its pocket, 
and the blood-level belief that its 
youth is the noblest state to which a 
person can aspire. 

Films that sell, with obvious and 
hidden tropes, in every frame, the bill 
of goods that anyone not capable of 
appearing on Soul Train is beyond 
consideration, so what the hell does 
it matter if we bust up their property 
and give ’em the finger? 

When this pretense of innocence, 
as in Short Circuit, is swallowed whole 
by presumed adults, we have a situa- 
tion where filmmakers who should 
know better gull themselves into sel- 
ling that hype of Youth Eternal with 
no understanding of how they cor- 
rupt not only their talent, but the 
very audience they pretend to serve. 

Such is the case with Legend, 
which I’ll deal with at full length next 
time. Suffice to say, for now, that this 
epic brought forth by Ridley Scott 
and a battalion of equally talented 
creators, panders as shamefully as 
Top Gun or Porky’s to teenage fanta- 
sies of Good and Evil, Rebellion and 
Authority, Youth and Age. And does it 
with the breakneck pace of an MTV 
potboiler, so loud and so demented 

in its headlong flight, that we emerge 
from the screening room gasping for 
breath, praying for a moment of sur- 

There is no room to breathe in 
Legend, even as there is no room to 
breathe in Beverly Hills Cop or Top 
Gun. We are not permitted a mo- 
ment’s respite to think what all this 
kiddie fascination with faeries and 
unicorns and demons and goblins is 
all in aid of. 

Do not mistake my meaning. Le- 
gend is an astonishing film in many 
ways. The eyes will behold things 
they have never seen, have only con- 
jured in dreams. And that is wonder- 
ful, because it’s what movies are sup- 
posed to do for us. 

But Legend becomes, in its final 
American version, a telling example 
of studio interference, of Art twisted 
to serve the ends of Commerce Un- 
checked, of a creative intellect oper- 
ating without maturity. I’ll talk about 
it next time. 

Because Legend is something real- 
ly strange: a fifty-two year old man 
with the brain of a six-year-old. Some- 
thing really strange like that. 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

Lucius Shepard C*A Spanish Lesson** December 1985; **The Jag- 
uar Hunger** May 1985) returns with another of his distinctive 
tales; he describes this one as **my idea of a story told by a 
future storyteller about his distant past, which is our distant 
future . . . 

The Arcevoalo 




hundred years after the September 
War, whose effects had transformed 
the Amazon into a region of supernal 
mystery, a young man with olive skin 
and delicate features and short black 
hair awoke to find himself lying amid 
a bed of ferns not far from the ruined 
city of Manaus. It seemed to him that 
some great darkness had just been 
lifted away, but he could recall no- 
thing more concrete of his past, 
neither his name nor those of his 
parents or place of birth. Indeed, he 
was so lacking in human referents 
that he remained untroubled by this 
state of affairs and gazed calmly 
around at the high green canopy and 
the dust-hung shafts of sun and the 
tapestry of golden radiance and sha- 
dow overlying the jungle floor. Every- 
where he turned he saw marvelous 
creatures: butterflies with translucent 

wings; birds with hinged, needle-thin 
beaks; snakes with foceted eyes that 
glowed more brightly than live coals. 
Yet the object that commanded his 
attention was a common orchid, its 
bloom a dusky lavender, that de- 
pended from the lowermost branch 
of a guanacaste tree. The sight mes- 
merized him, and intuitions about 
the orchid flowed into his thoughts: 
how soft its petals were, how subtle 
its fragrance, and, lastly, that it was 
not what it appeared to be. At that 
moment, as if realizing that he had 
penetrated its disguise, the bloom 
flew apart, revealing itself to have 
been composed of glittering insects, 
all of which now whirled off toward 
the canopy, shifting in color like par- 
ticles of an exploded rainbow; and 
the young man understood — a fur- 
ther intuition — that he, too, was not 
what he appeared. 


The Arcevoalo 

Puzzled, and somewhat afraid, he 
glanced down at the ferns and saw 
scattered among them pieces of a fi- 
brous black husk. Upon examining 
them, he discovered that the insides 
of the pieces were figured by smooth 
indentations that conformed exactly 
to the shapes of his face and limbs. 
There could be no doubt that prior 
to his awakening, he had been en- 
closed within the husk like a seed in 
its casing. His anxiety increased when— 
on setting down one of the pieces — 
his fingers brushed the clay beneath 
the ferns and he saw before his mind’s 
eye the pitching deck of a vast wood- 
en ship, with wild seas bursting over 
the railings. Men wearing steel hel- 
mets and carrying pikes were huddled 
in the bow, and standing in the door 
that led to the gun decks (how had 
he known that?) was a gray-haired 
man who beckoned to him. To him? 
No, to someone he had partly been. 
JoSLo Merin Nascimento. That name 
— like his vision of the ship — sur- 
faced in his thoughts following con- 
tact with the clay. And with the name 
came a thousand fragments of memo- 
ry, sufficient to make the young man 
realize that Nascimento, a Portuguese 
soldier of centuries past, lay buried 
beneath the spot where he was sit- 
ting, and that he was in essence the 
reincarnation of the old soldier: for 
just as the toxins and radiations of 
the September War had transformed 
the jungle, so the changed jungle had 
worked a process of alchemy on those 

ancient bones and produced a new 
creature, human to a degree, yet —to 
a greater degree — quite inhuman. 
Understanding this eased the young 
man’s anxiety, because he now knew 
that he was safe in the dominion of 
the jungle, whose creature he truly 
was. But he understood, too, that his 
manlike form embodied a cunning 
purpose, and in hopes of discerning 
that purpose, he set out to explore 
the jungle, walking along a trail that 
led ( though he was not aware of it ) 
to the ruins of Manaus. 

Nine days he walked, and during 
those days he learned much about 
the jungle’s character and — conse- 
quently — about his own. From a 
creature with a dozen bodies, each 
identical, yet only one of which con- 
tained its vital spark, he learned an 
ultimate caution; from the malgaton, 
a fierce jaguarlike beast whose strange 
eyes could make a man dream of 
pleasure while he died, he learned 
the need for circumspection in the 
cause of violence; from the deadly ji- 
caparee vine with its exquisite flow- 
ers, he learned the importance of set- 
ting a lure and gained an appreciation 
of the feral principles underlying all 

From each of these creatures and 
more, he learned that no living thing 
is without its parasites and symbi- 
otes, and that in the moment they are 
born their death is also born. But not 
until he came in sight of the ruined 
city, when he saw its crumbling, vine- 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

draped towers tilting above the can- 
opy like grotesque vegetable chess- 
men whose board was in process of 
being overthrown, not until then did 
he at last fathom his purpose: that he 
was to be the jungle's weapon against 
mankind, its mortal enemy who time 
and again had sought to destroy it. 

The young man could not con- 
ceive how — fangless and clawless 
—he would prove a threat to an enemy 
with weapons that had poisoned a 
world. Perplexed, hoping some fur- 
ther illumination would strike him, 
he took to wandering the city streets, 
over cracked flagstones between 
which he could see the tunnels of 
guerilla ants, past ornate wrought- 
iron streetlamps in whose fractured 
globes white phosphorescent spiders 
the size of skull crabs had spun their 
webs (by night their soft glow con- 
veyed a semblance of the city's fabu- 
lous heyday into this, its rotting de- 
cline), and through the cavernous 
mansions of the wealthy dead. Every- 
where he wandered he encountered 
danger, for Manaus had been heavily 
dusted during the September War 
and thus was home to the most per- 
verse of the jungle's mutations: flying 
lizards that spit streams of venom; al- 
bino peacocks whose shrill cries 
could make a man bleed from the 
ears; the sortilene, a mysterious crea- 
ture never glimpsed by human eyes, 
known only by the horrid malignan- 
cies that sprouted from the flesh of 
its victims; herds of peccaries, super- 

ficially unchanged but possessing vo- 
cal chords that could duplicate the 
cries of despairing women. At night 
an enormous shadow obscured the 
stars, testifying to an even more dire 
presence. Yet none of these creatures 
troubled the young man — they 
seemed to know him for an ally. And, 
indeed, often as he explored the 
gloomy interiors of the ruined houses, 
he would see hundreds of eyes gazing 
at him, slit pupils and round, showing 
all colors like a spectrum of stars 
ranging the dusky green shade, and 
then he would have the idea that they 
were watching over him. 

At length he entered the lobby of 
a hotel that — judging by the sump- 
tuous rags of its drapes, the silver- 
cloth stripe visible in the moss-furred 
wallpaper, the immensity of the re- 
ception desk — must once have been 
a palace among hotels. Thousands of 
slitherings stilled when he entered. 
The dark green shadows seemed the 
visual expression of a cloying musti- 
ness, one redolent of a thousand in- 
significant deaths. His footsteps shak- 
ing loose falls of plaster dust, he 
walked along the main hallway, past 
elevator shafts choked with vines and 
epithytes, and came eventually to a 
foyer whose roof was holed in such a 
fashion that sharply defined sunbeams 
hung down from it, dappling the scum- 
my surface of an ornamental pond 
with coins of golden light. 
There, sitting naked and cross-legged 
on a large lily pad — the sort that 

The Arcevoalo 


once hampered navigation on the 
Rio Negro due to the toughness of its 
fiber — was an old Indian man, so 
wizened that he appeared to be a 
homunculus. His eyes were closed, 
his white hair filthy and matted, and 
his coppery skin bore a greenish tinge 
(whether this was natural coloration 
or a product of the shadows, the 
young man could not determine). 
The young man expected intuitions 
about the Indian to flow into his 
thoughts; but when this did not oc- 
cur, he realized that though the Indi- 
ans, too, had been changed by the 
September War, though they were 
partially the jungle’s creatures, they 
were still men, and the jungle had no 
knowledge of men other than that it 
derived from the bones of the dead. 
How then, he wondered, could he 
defeat an enemy about whom he was 
ignorant? He stretched out a hand to 
the Indian, thinking a touch might 
transmit some bit of information. But 
the Indian’s eyes blinked open, and 
with a furious splashing he paddled 
the lily pad beyond the young man’s 
reach. “The arcevoalo must be cau- 
tious with his touch,” he said in a 
creaky voice that seemed to stir the 
atoms of the dust within the sun- 
beams. Haven’t you learned that?” 

Though the young man — the 
arcevoalo — had not heard his name 
before, he recognized it immediately. 
With its Latinate echoes of wings and 
arcs, it spoke to him of the life he 
would lead, how he would soar brief- 

ly through the world of men and then 
return to give his knowledge of them 
to the jungle. Knowing his name 
opened him to his full strength — he 
felt it flooding him like a golden heat 
— and served to align his character 
more precisely with that of the jun- 
gle. He stared down at the Indian, 
who now struck him as being wholly 
alien, and asked how be had known 
the name. 

‘‘This truth I have eaten has told it 
to me,” said the Indian, holding up a 
pouch containing a quantity of white 
powder. Grains of it adhered to his 
fingers. ‘‘I was called here to speak 
the truth to someone . . . doubtless to 
you. But now 1 must leave.” He slipped 
off the lily pad and waded toward the 
edge of the pond. 

Moving so quickly that he caused 
the merest flutter of shadow upon 
the surface of the water, the arcevoa- 
lo leaped to the far side of the pond, 
blocking the Indian’s path. ‘‘What is 
this ‘truth?’” he asked. ‘‘And who 
called you here?” 

‘‘The powder derives from the 
asuero flower,” said the Indian. ‘‘A 
plant fertilized with the blood of 
honest men. As to who called me, if I 
had known that I might not have 
come.” He made as if to haul himself 
from the pond, but the arcevoalo 
stayed him. 

‘‘How must I go about conquering 
my enemy?” he asked. 

‘‘To do battle one must first un- 
derstand the foe.” 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

“Then I will keep you with me 
and learn your ways,” countered the 

The Indian hissed impatiently. “I 
am as different from those you must 
understand as you are from me. You 
must go to the city of Sangue do 
Lume. It is a new city, inhabited by 
Brazilians who fled the September 
War. Until recently they dwelled in 
metal worlds that circle the darkness 
behind the sky. Now they have re- 
turned to claim their ancient hold- 
ings, to reap the fruits of the jungle 
and to kill its animals for profit. It is 
they with whom you will contend.” 

“How will I contend? I have no 

“You have speed and strength,” 
said the Indian. “But your greatest 
weapon is a mere touch.” 

He instructed the arcevoalo to 
press the pads of his fingers hard, and 
when he did droplets of clear fluid 
welled from beneath the nails. 

“A single drop will enslave any 
man’s heart for a time,” said the Indi- 
an. “But you must use this power 
sparingly, for your body can produce 
the fluid only in a limited quantity.” 

He flicked his eyes nervously from 
side to side, obviously afraid, eager to 
be gone. The arcevoalo continued to 
ask questions, but the effects of the 
“truth” drug were wearing off, and 
the Indian began to whine and to lie, 
saying that his cousin, whom he had 
not seen since the Year of Fabulous 
Sorrows, was coming to visit and he 

would be remiss if he were not home 
to greet him. With a wave of his hand, 
the arcevoalo dismissed him, and the 
Indian went scuttling away toward 
the lobby. 

For a long time the arcevoalo stood 
beside the pond, thinking about what 
the Indian had said, watching the 
sunlight fade; in its stead a gray-green 
dusk filtered down from the holes in 
the roof. Soon he felt himself dim- 
ming, his thoughts growing slow, his 
blood sluggish, his muscles draining 
of strength: it was as if the dusk were 
also taking place inside his soul and 
body, and a gray-green fluid seeping 
into him and making him terribly 
weak and vague, incapable of move- 
ment. He saw that from every crack 
and cranny, jeweled eyes and scaly 
snouts and tendriled mouths were 
peering and thrusting and gaping. And 
in this manifold scrutiny, he sensed 
the infinitude of lives for whom he 
was to be the standard-bearer: those 
creatures in the ruined foyer were 
but the innermost ring of an audience 
focused upon him from every corner 
of the jungle. He apprehended them 
singly and as one, and from the com- 
bined intelligence of their regard he 
understood that dusk for him was an 
hour during which he must be soli- 
tary, both to hide from men the weak- 
ness brought on by the transition 
from light to dark, and to commune 
with the source of his imperatives. 
Dusk thickened to night, shafts of 
silvery moonlight shone down to re- 

The Arcevoalo 


place those of the sun, which now 
burned over Africa, and with the dark- 
ness a new moon of power rose in- 
side the arcevoalo, a silver strength 
equal yet distinct from the golden 
strength he possessed by day, geared 
more to elusiveness than to acts of 
domination. Freed of his intangible 
bonds, he walked from the hotel and 
set forth to find Sangue do Lume. 

I^^uring the twenty-seven days it 
took the arcevoalo to reach Sangue 
do Lume — which means “Blood of 
Light’’ in Portuguese, which is the 
language of sanguinary pleasures and 
heartbreak — he tested himself 
against the jungle. He outran the mal- 
gatdn, outclimbed the tarzanal, and 
successfully spied upon the myste- 
rious sortilene. He tested himself joy- 
fully, and perhaps he never came to 
be happier than he was in those days, 
living in a harmony of green light and 
birds by day, and by night gazing into 
the ruby eyes of a malgatdn, into 
those curious pupils that flickered 
and changed shape and brought the 
comfort of dreams. One evening he 
scaled a peak, hoping to lure down 
the huge shadow that each night ob- 
scured the stars, and when it flew 
near he saw that it was almost literal- 
ly a shadow, being millimeters thick 
and having neither eyes nor mouth 
nor any feature that he could discern. 
There was something familiar about 
it, and he sensed that it was interested 

in him, that it — like him — was the 
sole member of its species. But oth- 
erwise it remained a puzzle: a rip- 
pling field of opaque darkness as in- 
comprehensible as a flat black 

Sangue do Lume lay in a hilly val- 
ley between three mountains and was 
modeled after the old colonial towns, 
with cobbled streets and white stuc- 
co houses that had ironwork balco- 
nies and tiled roofs and gardens in 
their courtyards. Surrounding it — 
also after the style of the old colonial 
towns — was a slum where lived the 
laborers who had built the city. And 
surrounding the slum was a high wall 
of gray metal from which energy wea- 
pons were aimed at the jungle (no 
such weapons, however, were per- 
mitted within the wall). Despite the 
aesthetic incompatibility of its de- 
fenses, the city was beautiful, beauti- 
ful even to the eyes of the arcevoalo 
as he studied it from afar. He could 
not understand why it seemed so, be- 
ing the home of his enemy; but he 
was later to learn that the walls of the 
houses contained machines that re- 
fined the images of the real, causing 
the visual aspect of every object to 
tend toward the ideal. Thus it was 
that the precise indigo shadows were 
in actuality blurred and dead-black; 
thus it was that women who went 
beyond the walls veiled themselves 
to prevent their husbands from tak- 
ing note of their coarsened appear- 
ance; thus it was that the flies and 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

rats and other pests of Sangue do 
Lume possessed a certain eye-catching 

Each morning dozens of ships 
shaped like flat arrowpoints would 
lift from the city and fly off across the 
jungle; each afternoon they would re- 
turn, their holds filled with dead 
plants and bloody carcasses, which 
would be unloaded into slots in the 
metal wall, presumably for testing. 
Seeing this, the arcevoalo grew en- 
raged. Still, he bided his time and 
studied the city’s ways, and it was not 
until a week after his arrival that he 
finally went down to the gate. The 
gatekeepers were amazed to see a 
naked man walk out of the jungle and 
were at first suspicious; but he told 
them a convincing tale of childhood 
abandonment (a childhood of which, 
he said, he could recall only his name 
— Joao Merin Nascimento), of end- 
less wandering and narrow escapes, 
and soon the gatekeepers, their eyes 
moist with pity, admitted him and 
brought him before the governor, 
Caudez do Tuscanduva: a burly, 
middle-aged man with fierce black 
eyes and a piratical black beard and 
skin the color of sandalwood. The 
audience was brief, for the governor 
was a busy and a practical man, and 
when he discovered the arcevoalo’s 
knowledge of the jungle, he assigned 
him to work on the flying ships and 
gave orders that every measure should 
be taken to ensure his comfort. 

Such was the arcevoalo’s novelty 

that all the best families clamored to 
provide him with food and shelter, 
and thus it was deemed strange that 
Caudez do Tuscanduva chose to quar- 
ter him in the Valverde house. The 
Valverdes were involved in a long- 
standing blood feud with the gover- 
nor, one initiated years before upon 
the worlds behind the sky. The gov- 
ernor had been constrained by his 
vows of office from settling the mat- 
ter violently, and it was assumed that 
this conferring of an honored guest 
must be his way of making peace. But 
the Valverdes themselves were not 
wholly persuaded by the idea, and 
therefore — with the exception of 
Orlando, the eldest son — they main- 
tained an aloof stance toward the 
arcevoalo. Orlando piloted one of the 
ships that plundered the jungle, and 
it was to his ship that the arcevoalo 
had been assigned. He realized that 
by assisting in this work he would 
better understand his enemy, and so 
he did the work well, using his know- 
ledge to track down the malgatdn 
and the sortilene and creatures even 
more elusive. Yet it dismayed him, 
nonetheless. And what most dismayed 
him was the fact that as the weeks 
went by, he began to derive a human 
satisfaction from a job well done and 
to cherish his growing friendship with 
Orlando, who, by virtue of his delicate 
features and olive skin, might have 
been the arcevoalo’s close relation. 

Orlando was typical of the citi- 
zenry in his attitude of divine right 

The Arcevoalo 


concerning the land^ in his arrogance 
toward the poor (“They are eternal,” 
he once said. “You’ll sooner find a 
cure for death than for poverty”), 
and in his single-minded pursuit of 
pleasure; yet there was about him a 
courage and soulhilness that gained 
the arcevoalo’s resf)ect. On most nights 
he and Orlando would dress in black 
trousers and blousy silk shirts, and 
would join similarly dressed young 
men by the fountain in the main 
square. There they would practice at 
dueling with the knife and the cintral 
( a jungle weed with sharp-edged ten- 
drils and a rudimentary nervous sys- 
tem that could be employed as a liv- 
ing cat-o’-nine-tails), while the young 
women would promenade around 
them and cast shy glances at their fa- 
vorites. The arcevoalo pretended clum- 
siness with the weapons, not wanting 
to display his speed and strength, and 
he was therefore often the subject of 
ridicule. This was just as well, for oc- 
casionally these play-duels would es- 
calate, and then — since even death 
was beautiful in Sangue do Lume— 
blood would eel across the cobble- 
stones, assuming lovely serpentine 
forms, and the palms ringing the square 
would rustle their fronds, and sad 
music would issue from the fountain, 
mingling with the splash of the waters. 

Many of these duels stemmed from 
disputes over the affections of the 
governor’s daughter, Sylvana, the sole 
child of his dead wife, his pride and 
joy. The bond between father and 

daughter was of such intimacy, it was 
said that should one’s heart stop, the 
other would not long survive. Sylvana 
was pale, slim, blonde, and angelic of 
countenance, but was afflicted by a 
brittleness of expression that bespoke 
coldness and insensitivity. Observing 
this, the arcevoalo was led to ask Or- 
lando why the young men would risk 
themselves for so heartless a prize. 
Orlando laughed and said, “How can 
you understand when you have no 
experience of women?” And he invit- 
ed the arcevoalo to gain this expe- 
rience by coming with him to the Fa- 
velin, which was the name of the 
slum surrounding the city. 

The next night, Orlando and the 
arcevoalo entered the cluttered, smelly 
streets of the Favefin. The hovels there 
were made of rotting boards, pitched 
like wreckage at every angle, and were 
populated by a malnourished, shrunk- 
en folk who looked to be of a differ- 
ent species from Orlando. Twists of 
oily smoke fumed from the chimneys; 
feathered lizards slept in the dirt next 
to grimy children; hags in black shawls 
sacrificed pigs beneath glass bells full 
of luminescent fungus and scrawled 
bloody words in the dust to cure the 
sick. How ugly all this might have 
been beyond the range of the city’s 
machines, the arcevoalo could not 
conceive. They came to a street 
whereon the doors were hung with 
red curtains, and Orlando ushered 
him through one of these and into a 
room furnished with a pallet and a 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

chair. Mounted on the wall was the 
holograph of a bearded man who— 
though the cross to which he was 
nailed had burst into emerald flames 
—had maintained a beatific expres- 
sion. The flames shed a ghastly light 
over a skinny girl lying on a pallet. She 
was hollow-cheeked, with large, 
empty-looking eyes and jaundiced skin 
and ragged dark hair. Orlando whis- 
pered to her, gave her a coin, and— 
grinning as he prepared to leave— 
said, “Her name is Ana.” 

Without altering her glum ex- 
pression, Ana stood and removed her 
shift. Her breasts had the convexity 
of upturned saucers, her ribs showed, 
and her genitals were almost hairless. 
Nevertheless, the arcevoalo became 
aroused, and when he sank down on- 
to the pallet and entered her, he felt a 
rush of dominance and joy that roared 
through him like a whirlwind. He 
clutched at Ana’s hips with all his 
strength, building toward completion. 
And staring into her hopeless eyes, 
he sensed the profound alienness of 
women, their mystical endurance, the 
eerie valences of their moods, and 
how even their common thoughts 
turn hidden comers into bizarre men- 
tal worlds. Knowing his dominance 
over this peculiar segment of human- 
ity acted to heighten his desire, and 
with a hoarse cry he fell spent beside 
Ana and into a deep sleep. 

He awoke to find her gazing at him 
with a look of such rapt contempla- 
tion that when she turned her eyes 

away, the image of his face remained re- 
flected in her pupils. Timorously, shy- 
ly, she asked if he planned to return to 
the Favefin, to her. He recalled then 
the force with which he had clutched 
her, and he inspected the tips of his 
hngers. Droplets glistened beneath 
the nails, and there were damp bruises 
on Ana’s hips. He realized that his 
touch, his secret chemistry, had ma- 
nifested as love, an emotion whose 
power he apprehended but whose na- 
ture he did not understand. 

“Will you return?” she asked again. 

“Yes,” he said, feeling pity for her. 

And he did return, many times, for 
in his loveless domination of that 
wretched girl he had taken a step 
closer to adopting the ways of man. 
He had come to see that there was 
little difference between the city and 
the jungle, that “civilization” was 
merely a name given to comfort, and 
that the process of life in Sangue do 
Lume obeyed the same uncivilized 
laws as did the excesses of the sorti- 
lene. What point was there in war- 
ring against man? And, in any case, 
how could he win such a war? His 
touch was a useless power against 
an enemy who could summon count- 
less allies from its worlds behind the 

Over the ensuing weeks the arce- 
voalo grew ever more despondent, 
and in the throes of despondency the 
human elements of his soul grew 
more and more predominant. At dusk 

The Arcevoalo 


his reverie was troubled by images of 
lust and conquest stirred from the 
memories of Jo21o Merin Nascimento. 
And his work aboard Orlando’s ship 
became so proficient that Caudez do 
Tuscanduva held a fete in his honor, a 
night of delirium and pleasure during 
which a constellation of his profile 
appeared in the sky, and the swaying 
of the palms was choreographed by 
artificial winds, and the machines 
within the walls were turned high, 
beautifying everyone to such an ex- 
tent that everyone’s heart was broken 
. . . broken, and then healed by the 
consumption of tiny, soft-boned ani- 
mals that induced a narcissistic ec- 
stacy when eaten alive. Despite his 
revulsion for this practice, the arce- 
voalo indulged in it, and, his teeth 
stained with blood, he spent the re- 
mainder of the night wandering the 
incomparably beautiful streets and 
gazing longingly at himself in mirrors. 

Thereafter Caudez do Tuscanduva 
took Orlando and the arcevoalo under 
his wing, telling them they were to 
be his proteges, that he had great 
plans for them. Further, he urged 
them to pay court to Sylvana, saying 
that, yes, she was an icy sort, but the 
right man would be able to thaw her. 
In this Orlando needed no urging. He 
plied her with gifts and composed 
lyrics to her charms. But Sylvana was 
disdainful of his efforts, and though 
for the most part she was equally dis- 
dainful of the arcevoalo, now and 
then she would favor him with a chil- 

ly smile, which — while scarcely en- 
couraging — made Orlando quite 

“You’d do better to set your sights 
elsewhere,’’ the arcevoalo once told 
Orlando. “Even if you win her, you’ll re- 
gret it. She’s the kind of woman who 
uses marriage like a vise, and before 
you know it she’ll have you squealing 
like a stuck pig.’’ He had no idea wheth- 
er or not this was true — it was some- 
thing he had overheard another disap- 
pointed suitor say — but it accorded 
with his own impressions of her. He be- 
lieved that Orlando was leaving himself 
open to the possibility of grievous 
hurt, and he told him as much. No 
matter how forcefully he argued, 
though, Orlando refused to listen. 

“I know you’re only trying to pro- 
tect me, friend,” he said. “And per- 
haps you’re right. But this is an affair 
of the heart, and the heart is ruled by 
its own counsel.” 

And so the arcevoalo could do no- 
thing more than to step aside and let 
Orlando have a clear field with Syl- 

On one occasion Caudez invited 
them to dine at the governor’s man- 
sion. They sat at a long mahogany ta- 
ble graced by golden candelabra 
through whose branches the arcevoa- 
lo watched Sylvana daintily picking at 
her food, ignoring the heated glances 
that Orlando sent her way. After the 
meal, Caudez led them into his study, 
its windows open onto the orchid- 
spangled courtyard where Sylvana 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

could be seen strolling — as elegant 
as an orchid herself — and held forth 
on his scheme to milk the resources 
of the Amazon: how he would reopen 
the gold mines at Serra Pelada, rein- 
stitute the extensive-farming pro- 
cedures that once had brought an 
unparalleled harvest, and thus feed 
and finance hundreds of new orbital 
colonies. Orlando’s attention was 
fixed upon Sylvana, but the arcevoalo 
listened closely. Caudez, with his pi- 
ratical air and his dream of transform- 
ing the Amazon into a tame backyard, 
struck him as being a force equal to 
the jungle. Pacing up and down, de- 
claiming about the glorious future, 
Caudez seemed to walk with the pride 
of a continent. Late in the evening he 
turned his fierce black stare upon the 
arcevoalo and questioned him about 
his past. The questions were com- 
plex, fraught with opportunities for 
the arcevoalo to compromise the se- 
cret of his birth; he had to summon 
ail his wits to avoid these pitfalls, and 
he wondered if Caudez were suspi- 
cious of him. But then Caudez laughed 
and clapped him on the shoulder, 
saying what a marvel he was, and that 
allayed his fears. 


W W hereas in the jungle, time 
passed in a dark green flow, a single 
fluid moment infinitely prolonged, 
within the walls of Sangue do Lume it 
passed in sharply delineated segments 
so that occasionally one would be- 

come alerted to the fact that a certain 
period had elapsed — this due to the 
minuscule interruptions in the flow 
of time caused by the instruments 
men have for measuring it. And thus 
it was that one morning the arcevoa- 
lo awoke to the realization that he 
had lived in the city for a year. A year! 
And what progress had he made? His 
life, which had once had the form of 
purpose, of a quest, had resolved into 
a passive shape defined by his associ- 
ations: his friendship with Orlando 
(whose wooing of Sylvana had 
reached fever pitch), his sexual en- 
counters with Ana, his apprentice- 
ship to Caudez. Each night he was 
reminded of his deeper associations 
with the jungle by the huge shadow 
that obscured the stars, yet he felt 
trapped between the two worlds, at 
home in neither, incapable of effect- 
ing any change. He might have con- 
tinued at this impasse had not Ana 
announced to him one evening that 
she was with child. It would. be, ac- 
cording to the old woman who had 
listened to her belly, a son. Standing 
in the garish light of her burning 
Christ, displaying her new roundness, 
flushed with a love no longer de- 
pendent on his touch, she presented 
him with a choice he could not avoid 
making. If he did nothing, his son 
would be bom into the world of men; 
he had to be certain this was right. 

But how could he decide such a 
complex issue, one that had baffled 
him for an entire year? 

The Arcevoalo 


At the point of desperation, he 
remembered the old Indian man and 
his “truth,” and that same night, after 
the machines in the walls had been 
switched off, leaving the flaking white- 
wash of the buildings exposed, he 
sneaked into the warehouse where 
the plant samples were kept and pil- 
fered a quantity of asuero flowers. He 
returned to the Valverde house, 
ground the petals into a fine powder, 
and ate the entire amount. Soon pearls 
of sweat beaded on his forehead, his 
limbs trembled, and the moonlight 
flooding his room appeared to grow 
brighter than day. 

Truth came to him in the clarity 
of his vision. Between the floorboards 
he saw microscopic insects and 
plants, and darting through the air 
were even tinier incidences of life. 
From these sights he understood anew 
that the city and the jungle were in- 
terpenetrating. Just as the ruins of 
Manaus lay beneath the foliage, so 
did the jungle's skeins infiltrate the 
living city. One was not good, the 
other evil. They were two halves of a 
whole, and the war between them 
was not truly a war but an everlasting 
pattern, a game in which he was a 
powerful pawn moved from the gro- 
tesque chessboard of Manaus to the 
neat squares of Sangue do Lume, a 
move that had set in motion a pawn 
of perhaps even greater power: his 
son. He realized now that no matter 
with which side he cast his lot, his 
son would make the opposite choice, 

for it was an immutable truth that fa- 
thers and sons go contrary to the 
other’s will. Thus he had to make his 
own choice according to the dictates 
of his soul. A soul in confusion. And 
to dissolve that confusion, to know 
his options fully, he had to complete 
his knowledge of man byiinderstand- 
ing the nature of love. He thought 
first of going to Ana, of infecting him- 
self with the chemicals of his touch 
and falling under her spell; but then 
he recognized that the kind of love 
he sought to understand — the all- 
consuming love that motivates and 
destroys — had to embody the quali- 
ty of the unattainable. With this in 
mind, still trembling from the fevers 
of the asuero powder, he went out 
again into the night and headed to- 
ward the governor’s mansion, toward 
the unattainable Sylvana. 

Since the concept of security in 
Sangue do Lume was chiefly geared 
to keeping the jungle out, the sys- 
tems protecting the mansion were 
minimal, easily penetrated by a crea- 
ture of the arcevoalo’s stealth. He 
crept up the stairs, along the hall, 
cracked Sylvana’s door, and eased in- 
side. As was the custom with high- 
born women of the city, she was 
sleeping nude beneath a skylight 
through which the rays of the moon 
shone down in a silvery fan. A dia- 
mond pulsed coldly in the hollow of 
her throat, a tourmaline winked be- 
tween her breasts, and in the tuft of 
her secret hair — trimmed to the 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

shape of an orchid — an emerald 
shimmered wetly. These gems were 
bound in place by silken threads and 
were no ordinary stones but crystal- 
line machines that focused the moon- 
light downward to produce a salub- 
rious effect upon the organs, and also 
served as telltales of those organs’ 
health. The unclouded states of the 
emerald, the tourmaline, and the di- 
amond testified that Sylvana was vir- 
ginal and of sound heart and respira- 
tion. But she was so lovely that the 
arcevoalo would not have cared if the 
stones had been black, signaling wan- 
tonness and infection. Rivulets of 
blonde hair streamed over her porce- 
lain shoulders, and the soft brush of 
sleep had smoothed away her brittle- 
ness of expression, giving her the 
look of an angel under an enchant- 

Fixing his gaze upon her, the arce- 
voalo gripped his left forearm with 
the fingers of his right hand and 
pressed down hard. He maintained 
the grip for some time, uncertain 
how much of the chemical would be 
needed to affect him — indeed, he 
was uncertain whether or not he 
could be affected. But soon he felt a 
languorous sensation that made his 
eyelids droop and stilled the trem- 
bling caused by the asuero powder. 
When he opened his eyes, the sight of 
the naked Sylvana pierced him: it was 
as if an essential color had all along 
been missing from his portrait of her. 
Staring at her through the doubled 

lens of truth and love, he knew her 
coldness, her cunning and duplicity; 
yet he perceived these flaws in the 
way he might have perceived the 
fracture planes inside a crystal, how 
they channeled the light to create a 
lovely illusion of depth and complex- 
ity. Faint with desire, he walked over 
to the bed. A branching of bluish 
veins spread from the tops of her 
breasts, twined together and vanished 
beneath the diamond in the hollow 
of her throat, as if deriving suste- 
nance from the stone; a tiny mole lay 
like a drop of obsidian by the corner 
of her lips. Carefully, knowing she 
could never truly love him, yet wil- 
ling to risk his life to have her love 
this one and false time, he stretched 
out a hand and clamped it over Sylva- 
na’s mouth, while with the other hand 
he gripped her shoulder hard. Her 
eyes shot open, she squealed and 
kicked and clawed. He held her firm- 
ly, waiting for the chemistry of love 
to take effect. But it did ngt. As- 
tounded, he examined his fingertips. 
They were dry, and he realized that in 
his urgency to know love he had ex- 
hausted the potency of his touch. He 
was fiill of despair, knowing he would 
have to flee the city . . . but then Syl- 
vana’s struggles ceased. The panic in 
her eyes softened, and she drew him 
into an embrace, whispering that her 
fearful reaction was due to the shock 
of being awakened so roughly, that 
she had been hoping for this moment 
ever since they had met. And with the 

The Arcevoalo 


power of truth which — though di- 
minished by the truth of love — still 
allowed him a modicum of clear sight, 
the arcevoalo saw that, indeed, she 
had been hoping for this moment. 
She seemed charged with desire, 
overwhelmed by a passion no less ar- 
dent than his. But when he entered 
her, sinking into her plush warmth, 
he felt a nugget of chill against his 
belly; he knew it was the diamond 
bound by its silken thread, yet he 
could not help thinking of it as a 
node of her quintessential self that 
not even love could dissolve. 

Some hours later, after the power 
of truth had been drained for the 
arcevoalo, Sylvana spoke to him. 
“Leave me,” she said. “1 have no more 
use for you.” She was standing by the 
open door, smiling at him; the threads 
of her telltale jewels dangled from 
her right hand. 

“What do you mean?” he asked. 
“What use have you made of me?” He 
was shocked by the wealth of cruelty 
in her smile, by her transformation 
from the voluptuous, the soft, into 
this glacial creature with glittering 

She laughed — a thin, hard laugh 
that seemed to chart the jagged edge 
of a vengeful thought. “I’ve never 
known such a fool,” she said. “It’s 
hard to believe you’re even a man. I 
wondered if I’d have to drag you into 
my bed.” 

Again she laughed, and, suddenly 
afraid, the arcevoalo pulled on his 

clothes and ran, her derisive laughter 
chasing him down the hail and out 
into the dove-gray dawn of Sangue do 
Lume, whose machines were already 
beginning to restore a fraudulent per- 
fection to its flaking walls. 


# mil that day the arcevoalo kept to 
his room in the Valverde house. He 
knew he should leave the city before 
Sylvana called down judgment upon 
him, but he found that he could not 
leave her, no matter how little affec- 
tion she had for him. He understood 
now the nature of love, its blurred, 
irrational compulsions, its torments 
and its joys, and he doubted it would 
ever loosen its grip on him. But un- 
derstanding it had made his choice 
no easier, and so perhaps he did not 
entirely understand, perhaps he did 
not see that love enforces its own 
continuum of choices, even upon an 
inhuman celebrant. There was no end 
to his confusion. One moment he 
would feel drawn back to the jungle, 
the next he would wonder how he 
could have considered such a reck- 
less course. At dusk his reverie alter- 
nated between a perception of form- 
less urges and a sequence of memories 
in which JoJo Merin Nascimento 
staggered through a green hell, his 
brain afire and death a poisoned sug- 
ar clotting his veins. Night fell, and 
having some frail hope that Sylvana 
would do nothing, that things might 
go on as before, the arcevoalo left the 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

house and walked toward the main 

Though it was no holiday, though 
no fete had been scheduled, of all the 
beautiful nights in Sangue do Lume, 
this night came the closest to perfec- 
tion, marred only by the whining of 
the machines functioning at peak lev- 
els. In the square the palm crowns 
flickered like green torches beneath 
an unequaled array of stars, and beams 
of light from the windows shone like 
benedictions upon the fountain, 
whose spouts cast up sprays of silver 
droplets that fell to the ear as a cas- 
cade of guitar notes. Against the back- 
drop of gray stones and white stucco, 
the graceful attitudes of the young 
men and women, strolling and duel- 
ing, lost in a haze of mutual admira- 
tion, seemed a tapestry come to life. 
Even the arcevoalo’s grim mood was 
brightened by the scene, but on draw- 
ing near the group of young men ga- 
thered about Orlando, on hearing Or- 
lando’s boastful voice, his mood 
darkened once again. 

“. . . his blessing to Sylvana and I,” 
Orlando was saying. “We’ll be wed 
during the Festival of Erzulie.’’ 

The arcevoalo pushed through the 
group of listeners and confronted Or- 
lando, too enraged to speak. Orlando 
put a hand on his shoulder. “My 
friend!’’ he said. “Great news!’’ But 
the arcevoalo struck his hand aside 
and said, “Your news is a lie! You will 
never marry her!’’ 

It may have been that Orlando 

thought his friend was still trying to 
protect him from a loveless marriage, 
for he said, “Don’t worry ...” 

“It’s I who made love to her last 
night,’’ the arcevoalo cut in. “And it’s 
I who’ll marry her.’’ 

Orlando reached for his cintral, 
whose green tendrils were dangling 
over the edge of the fountain; but he 
hesitated. Perhaps it was friendship 
that stayed his hand, or perhaps he 
believed that the arcevoalo’s friend- 
ship was so great that he would lie 
and risk a duel to prevent the mar- 

Then a woman laughed — a thin 
derisive laugh. 

The arcevoalo turned and saw Syl- 
vana and Caudez standing a dozen 
feet away. Hanging from a gold chain 
about Sylvana’s neck was her telltale 
emerald, its blackness expressing the 
malefic use she had made of her body 
the previous night. Caudez was smil- 
ing, a crescent of white teeth show- 
ing forth from his thicket of a beard. 

Finally convinced that his friend 
had told the truth, Orlando’s face 
twisted into an aggrieved knot, dis- 
playing his humiliation and pain. He 
picked. up the cintral and lashed out 
at the arcevoalo. The sharp tendrils 
slithered through the air like liquid 
green swords; but at the last second 
— recognizing their ally — they 
veered aside, spasmed, and drooped 
lifelessly from Orlando’s hand. His 
mind a boil of rage, unable by logic to 
direct his anger toward his true ene- 

The Arcevoalo 


my, the arcevoalo plucked a knife 
from a bystander’s sash and plunged 
it deep into Orlando’s chest. As Or- 
lando toppled onto his back, a hush 
fell over the assemblage, for never 
had they witnessed a death more 
beautiful than that of the Valverde’s 
eldest son. The palms inclined their 
spiky heads, the fountain wept tears 
of crystalline music. Orlando’s fea- 
tures aquired a noble rectitude they 
had not had in life; his blood shone 
with a saintly radiance and appeared 
to be spelling out a new language of 
poetry over the cobblestones. 

“Now!” cried Caudez do Tuscan- 
duva, his black eyes throwing off glints 
that were no reflections but sparks of 
an inner fire banked high. “Now has 
the great wrong done my father by 
the House of Valverde been avenged! 
And not by my hand!” 

Murmurs of admiration for the 
sublety of his vengeance spread 
through the crowd. But the arcevoalo 
— gone cold with the horror of his 
act, full of self-loathing at having al- 
lowed himself to be manipulated — 
advanced upon Caudez and Sylvana, 
his knife at the ready. 

“Kill him!” shouted Caudez, ex- 
horting the young men. “I have no 
quarrel with his choice of victims, 
but he has struck down a man whose 
weapon failed him. Such cowardice 
must not go unpunished!” 

And the young men, who had al- 
ways suspected the arcevoalo of be- 
ing lowborn and thus had no love for 


him, ranged themselves in front of 
Caudez and Sylvana, posing a barrier 
of grim faces and shining knives. 

When men refer to the arcevoalo, 
they speak not only of the one who 
stood then beside the fountain, but 
also of his incarnations, and they will 
tell you that none of these ever fought 
so bravely in victory as did their orig- 
inal in defeat that night in Sangue do 
Lume. Fueled by the potentials of 
hatred and love (though that love 
had been mingled with bitterness), 
he spun and leaped, living in a chaos 
of agonized faces and flowers of blood 
blooming on silk blouses; and while 
the sad music of the fountain evolved 
into a skirling tantara, he left more 
than twenty dead in his wake, cutting 
a path toward Caudez and Sylvana. He 
received wounds that would have 
killed a man yet merely served to 
goad him on, and utilizing all his 
moon-given elusiveness, he avoided 
the most consequential of the young 
men’s thrusts. In the end, however, 
there were too many young men, too 
many knives, and, weakening, he knew 
he would not be able to reach the 
governor and his daughter. 

There came a moment of calm in 
the storm of battle, a moment when 
nine of the young men had hemmed 
the arcevoalo in against the fountain. 
Others waited their chance behind 
them. They were wary of him now, 
yet confident, and they all wore one 
expression: the dogged, stuporous ex- 
pression that comes with the antici- 

FanUsy & Science Fiction 

pation of a slaughter. Their unanimity 
weakened the arcevoalo further, and 
he thought it might be best^to lay his 
weapon down and accept his fate. 
The young men sidled nearer, shift- 
ing their knives from hand to hand; 
the music of the fountain built to a 
glorious crescendo of trumpets and 
guitars, and the pale, beautiful bodies 
of the dead enmeshed in a lacework 
of blood seemed to be entreating the 
arcevoalo, tempting him to join them 
in their eternal poise. But in the next 
moment he spotted Caudez smiling 
at him between the shoulders of his 
adversaries, and Sylvana laughing at 
his side. That sight rekindled the arce- 
voalo’s rage. With an open-throated 
scream, choosing his target in a flash 
of poignant bitterness, he hurled his 
knife. The blade whirled end over 
end, accumulating silver fire, grow- 
ing brighter and brighter until its hilt 
sprouted from Sylvana’s breast. Be- 
fore anyone could take note of the 
artful character of her death, she sank 
beneath the feet of the milling de- 
fenders, leaving Caudez to stare in 
horror at the droplets of her blood 
stippling his chest. And then, seizing 
the opportunity provided by the 
young men’s consternation, the arce- 
voalo ran from the square, through 
the flawless streets and into the Fa- 
velm, past the hovel where Ana and 
his unborn son awaited an unguess- 
able future in the light of her dying 
god. He clambered over the gray me- 
tal wall and sprinted into the jungle. 

Such was the efficacy of the city’s 
machines that even the natural beau- 
ty of the moonlit jungle had been en- 
hanced. It seemed to the arcevoalo 
that he was passing through an intri- 
cate design of silver and black, fig- 
ured by the glowing eyes of those 
creatures who had come forth from 
hiding to honor his return. Despite 
his wounds, his panic, he had a sense 
of homecoming, of peacefulness and 
dominion. He came at length to a 
mountaintop east of Sangue do Lume 
and paused there to catch his breath. 
His muscles urged him onward, but 
his thoughts — heavy with the poi- 
sons of murder and betrayal — were 
a sickly ballast holding him in place. 
At any second, ships would arrow up 
from the city to track him, and he 
thought now that he would welcome 

But as he stood there, grieving 
and empty of hope, a shadow ob- 
scured the stars; a great rippling field 
of shadow that swooped down and 
wrappied him in its filmy, almost weight- 
less folds. He felt himself lifted and 
borne eastward and — after what 
could have been no more than a mat- 
ter of seconds — gently lowered to 
earth. Through the dim opacity of the 
folds, he made out a high canopy of 
leaves and branches, silvery shafts of 
moonlight, and a bed of ferns. He 
could feel the creature merging with 
him, its folds becoming fibrous, grad- 
ually thickening to a husk, and — re- 
calling the darkness that had passed 

The Arcevoalo 


from him at birth — he realized that 
this incomprehensible shadow was 
the death that had been born with 
him, had haunted all his nights, and 
had come at last to define the shape 
of his life. 

The world dwindled to a dark 
green vibration, and with half his soul 
he yearned toward the pleasures of 
the city, toward love, toward all the 
sweet futilities of the human condi- 
tion. But with the other half he ex- 
ulted in the knowledge that his pur- 
pose had been achieved, that he had 
understtKKl the nature of man. And 
(a final intuition) he knew that some- 
day, long after he had decayed into a 
clay of old memories, just as it had 
with the bones of Jollo Merin Nasci- 
mento, the jungle would breed from 
his bones a new creature, who — 
guided by his understanding — would 
make of love a weapon and of war a 
passion, and would bring inspired 

tactics to the eternal game. This know- 
ledge gave him a measure of happi- 
ness, but that was soon eroded by his 
fear of what lay — or did not lie— 

Something nudged the outside of 
the thickening husk. The arcevoalo 
peered out, straining to see, and spied 
the ruby eyes of a malgatdn peering 
in at him, come to give him the com- 
fort of dreams. Grateful, not wanting 
to feel the snip of death’s black scis- 
sors, he concentrated on those strange 
pupils, watching them shift and dis- 
solve and grow spidery, and then it 
was as if he were running again, run- 
ning in the joyful way he had before 
he had reached Sangue do Lume, 
running in a harmony of green light 
and birds, in a wind that sang like a 
harp on fire, in a moment that seemed 
to last forever and lead beyond to 
other lives. 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

Michael Shea rUncle Thggs/' May 1986) has become known for 
the witty, irreverent horror in his short stories, and '*Fill It With 
Regular*' is no exception. In this tale he takes an everyday event 
— the filling of one's gas tank — to an alien, eerie and amusing 

Fill It with Regular 




I t was just past 3*00 a.m. An all- 
night gas station stood on its lonely 
little asphalt atoll, a delta bordered 
by two convergent country roads. 
Not far beyond this confluence, the 
two-lane blacktop passed under a free- 
way. Up there, along lOl’s unsleep- 
ing corridors, big semis boomed and 
groaned, their frequency abated at 
this hour, but still clocklike. Down 
here on ground level, however, be- 
low the imperial elevation of that via- 
duct, all was country darkness, coun- 
try silence full of crickets. The black 
shapes of the roadside trees shrank 
and islanded the station’s light be- 
tween them, big, half-naked oaks, 
crooked against the stars. 

The attendant stood by one of the 

pumps. His khaki jacket — with “Al” 
stitched in red over one pocket— 
was thin, but he stood relaxed, even 
slack-armed, in the chill air. In fact, in 
the absence of muscle tone from his 
sharp-nosed face, there was some- 
thing faintly moronic. 

A pair of headlights sank down 
the freeway off-ramp and approached. 
Al shifted slightly on his feet and 
worked his fingers. An old, dented 
blue Maverick sighed on worn tires 
up to the pumps. The driver was a 
large, rather drunk-looking man. His 
horn-rims, one hinge sutured with 
black tape, sat on his nose a shade 
askew. Two or three of his lower 
teeth were missing, and his chin stub- 
ble was gray in patches. His air was 

“A glad good evening to you! Just 
fill this puppy to the brim with Reg- 

Fin It With ReguUr 


A1 nodded eagerly. Still, an uncer- 
tainty entered his manner after he 
unholstered the gas nozzle. The drunk 
blinked, smacked his forehead. 

“Ach! Where’s my mini/?” 

He hauled himself from the car, 
and an empty Ranier Ale can followed 
him out and tap-danced briefly on the 
asphalt. Dragging out his keys and 
moving sternwards, he unlocked his 
gas cap, set it on the trunk lid, and 
returned to his seat, all with a kind of 
staggery flourish. 

A1 filled the tank. A gush of excess 
foamed down the Maverick’s tail, mak- 
ing a clean stripe across the dirty li- 
cense plate. A1 released the trigger. 
Still hesitant, but moving hopefully 
now, A1 reholstered the nozzle. The 
drunk, squinting at the gauge, hoist- 
ed his hip for money — his unseen 
feet, shifting, raised the musical jos- 
tle of bottles. Peeling open a distort- 
ed lump of wallet, the drunk poked 
inside. He rummaged. He blinked. He 
raised a look heavenward and signed 
as at some relentless, long-known 
enemy, now plaguing him anew. 

“Will you believe this, man? Will 
you fuckin’ believe this? I’ve only got 
a ten here! I should have looked! I 
should have fuckin’ looked before I 
told you to fill it! But hey, listen. Look 
here. I don’t live far off. Over that way 
somewhere. Take this now, and I’ll 
bring you back the other two fifty, if 
not tonight, then first thing in the 

A1 was watching him with a kind 

of raptness. He kept nodding nerv- 
ously, as if in sign of noting important 
information. The drunk beamed. 

“You’re an ace, man! An ace! Just 
stick that in your pocket, and before 
another moon rises. I’ll be back with 
its two little buddies! God bless!” 

Looking genuinely moved, the 
drunk cracked another beer and 
sipped it as he drove off, dribbling 
gas at the stem. As he dipped the 
driveway, his gas cap tumbled off the 
trunk and rolled to the gutter as he 
accelerated away. 

A1 resumed his position by the 
Regular pump. Then a thought seem- 
ed to strike him. He went into the 
office, and through its connecting 
door into the locked garage. Here the 
legs of a man on a mechanic’s under- 
dolly thrust out from beneath a sta- 
tion wagon with its hood up. A1 got 
some wrenches from one of the 
shelves along the back wall and laid 
them on .the pavement beside the 

Standing again by the pump, A1 
seemed less catatonic than he had. 
His hands were more restive, task- 
ready, and his lips moved faintly, as 
though rehearsing words. From the 
freeway, another pair of headlights 
sank toward the empty corridors of 
oak shadows. A big new Cadillac slid 
its flawless, dark-cream paint job up 
to the pumps. 

It held a middle-aged couple, the 
Fennermans. They had been dining 
with their friends the Crosses and 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

were in a pleasant mood. Fred Cross, 
who also ran a new-car dealership, 
had let slip to Ted enough about his 
business to make Ted realize that his 
own lot had been doing pretty damn 
well lately by comparison. Gail Fen- 
nerman, for her part, had been deeply 
pleased by the enchiladas Muriel 
Cross had made, and no less pleased 
by the seven margaritas she had 
washed them down with. A1 marched 
to the window as Ted rolled it down. 
He looked hopeful now, determined. 

“Hi! Fill it with Regular?” His 
energy bordered on the intimidat- 

“Oh no!” Ted Fennerman chuckled 
uneasily. “Supreme! It’s Supreme all 
the way with these babies, right?” 

“Ah!” said Al, seeming crestfallen. 
He brightened at a thought. “Want to 
give me your keys?” 

“Right,” said Ted, separating out 
his gas key so that the rest hung from 
it, and putting it between Al’s finger- 
tips. Al marched back, unlocked the 
cap, laid it on the trunk. He got the 
hose, which he handled now with in- 
creased panache. He began to fill the 
Caddy’s tank. 

“What a strange man,” Gail Fen- 
nerman said. 

“I’ll say. I guess, though, that you’d 
have to be some kind of a loony to 
take a job like this in the first place, 
the boredom would drive a sane guy 



“Isn’t he filling us with Regular 

“Hey! Hey! Stop that!” Ted thrust 
almost half himself out the window. 
“Cut that out!” 

“Right,” said Al. Even then the 
overflow puddled beneath the plate. 

“What the hell is wrong with you?” 
keened Ted. “Didn’t I tell you Su- 
preme? “Didn’t I say that ^)ecifically?*' 

Hanging up the nozzle, Al gave a 
thoughtful nod. “You did say Su- 
preme specifically. Yes.” He tucked 
the Fennermans* keys into the pocket 
containing the drunk’s ten-dollar bill. 

“Hey!” Ted half-erupted again. 
“Gimme back my keysV" 

“Oh,” said Al, blinking. Returning 
the keys, he cleared his throat. “It’s 
O.K. if you just give me ten dollars. 
You can bring the rest by later to- 
night, or first thing in the morning.” 

“I don’t understand you,” Ted Fen- 
nerman said slowly, astonishedly. He 
forgot even to contest payment. 
“Here’s my credit card.” 

“Oh,” said Al. He inspected the 
card carefully, and then put it in his 
pocket with the ten-dollar bill. 

“What the hell are you doing?” 
Ted sounded hushed, awed. “Give 
me back my god-damned credit 

Al — perplexed, mouth ajar — re- 
turned the card. Pocketing it, Ted 
Fennerman hesitated only an instant 
over the legal risk of leaving without 
paying — then he fired up the car and 
pulled out. Gail’s head turned, she 

FUl It With Reguhr 


spoke, and the Caddy lurched to a 
stop just short of the driveway. Ted 
popped out. Keeping his hands on 
the car, as if for cover, he hurried as- 
tern of her, replaced the gas cap, 
dove back inside, and slid the car up 
into the darkness between the star- 
hung trees. 

A1 walked to the driveway, picked 
the drunk’s gas cap from the gutter, 
and gazed at it, nodding owlishly. He 
pocketed it and returned to the Reg- 
ular pump. Unholstering the nozzle, 
he put its tip to his mouth and trig- 
gered himself a couple of hearty 
gulps. Smacking his lips, he seemed 
to judge the savor. He went into the 
office and came out with a small, dark 

He went to one of the brass- 
hatched intake valves whereby the 
trucks fed the station’s cisterns. He 
keyed it open, dug from the bag a 
handful of black dust, and dropped it 
in. He shut the hatch, returned the 
bag to the office. He resumed his post 
at the Regular pump. Again his lips 
seemed to practice, voicelessly, as his 
eyes looked around at the country 
darkness environing his little wedge 
of light. 



I ^ext morning around eight, Ted 
Fennerman started siphoning the gas 
from his tank into a pair of cans from 
the garage. The engine had gotten 

detectably shuddery in just the few 
miles home from that miserable sta- 
tion. There had seemed a kind of 
juvenile delinquent fiin in the siphon- 
ing just at first, but his first draw was 
too prolonged, and he got a mouthful 
that soured the whole thing. He 
cursed the oil company whose logo 
had crowned that station, a seeming 
oasis down in the shadowlands, as 
seen from 101, which they had crest- 
ed so serenely at sixty-five. Why hadn't 
he kept going? It was his own fault for 
being so compulsive about keeping 
the tank full. He called his local sta- 
tion to send out a tow truck with 
some Supreme. 

With tepid breakfast coffee, he 
rinsed the fumes from his mouth. 
When the tow truck arrived, he rec- 
ognized the kid driving it — slight 
and pimply, but pqjpy. Today, though, 
he was so vague and slothful in his 
actions that Ted took the can and 
poured the* gas into the Caddy him- 
self. When Ted tipped him a buck, 
the kid didn’t seem to know what to 
do with it. WTien the hell was hap- 
pening? The Caddy thrummed and 
pinged all the way in to his car lot in 
Santa Rosa. He ground his teeth and 
swore as he drove. He might as well 
not have bothered changing the gas 
at all. He got to his desk around ten in 
a foul mood. He realized that, unmis- 
takably, he had the beginnings of a 
sore throat. 

It was a little after eleven when 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

the drunk, an artist named Ken. got 
up. He had a good reason for getting 
up so early: he had to go see Dale and 
borrow a hundred dollars from his 
academic friend. Starburst Paperbacks 
still owed Ken six hundred on his last 
cover, but far be it from them to 
speed payment. He washed his face. 
He warmed up some pizza and poured 
a beer. He hummed between sips, 
waiting for the cheese to remelt. It 
was a nuisance having to borrow mo- 
ney, but afterward they could drink 
and bullshit and watch cable TV— 
Dale got all the channels. 

He went out to his car around 
noon. He threw his traveling sketch 
pad — for ideas that obtruded them- 
selves upon his drinking time — in 
through the passenger window and 
circled round behind the car. Feeling 
an odd crackliness to the asphalt un- 
derfoot, he paused, looked down — 
and noticed he lacked his gas cap. 

“Shit!” he said. 

He drove back to the gas station, 
trying to keep all his accelerations 
smooth. It hadn’t seemed that cold 
last night, certainly was not now, yet 
the roadway still felt faintly crisp 
under his tires. He pulled into the 
station. The garage’s overhead door 
was now up, displaying someone on 
the floor dolly half under a station 
wagon. A1 was standing near the Reg- 
ular pump. Ken got out. 

“Hi, All” he cried, noting only 
now the red-stitched name. “Say, did 
I leave my gas cap here last night?” 

‘Tou sure did!” 

“Ah, great! That’s a relief!” There 
was a smiling pause. “Well,” Ken 
prodded. “Can 1 have it back?” 

“Why don’t I get it for you? It’s in 
the office!” 

“Great idea!” Ken hung aro ind 
the doorway of the garage while A1 
went in. A1 seemed more sure of him- 
self, much brisker today. On the oth- 
er hand, Ken realized, he hadn’t seen 
the guy under the car move very 
much at all. 

“Ha!” he offered. “Great place for 
a nap, hey?” The guy didn’t move or 
answer. Ken shrugged. Some assholes 
just didn’t have a sense of humor. A1 
brought him his cap and smiled: 

“Fill her up with Regular for you?” 

Ken laughed. “I didn’t lose that 
much. Thanks anyway. So long!” In- 
wardly he sighed, driving off — the 
two fifty was forgotten. He’d scroung- 
ed up only two dollars anyway, and 
now he could get a sixer of Buckhom 
with it. He slid on down Old Red- 
wood Highway — which stretched 
bright, almost silvery before him— 
and smiled skyward at the fresh fall 

Gail Fennerman awoke numb, feel- 
ing nibbled away around the edges, at 
12:30. Before moving, like a swim- 
mer who chooses the bit of distant 
coast he will strike toward, she de- 
termined two of the things she would 
do today. First, have a sauna at the 
gym. Second, have a flame-broiled 

Fill It With Regular 


patty-melt at the Fem *n Burger. The 
first would atone in advance for the 
second, for Gail equated sweating 
with calorie loss. 

She rose. She reached the shower, 
her legs feeling of unequal length. In 
the kitchen, her protein smoothie 
whirled strenuously in the blender, 
growling aggressively. Swallowing it 
was an act of grim will, such as she 
imagined it must take to lift weights, 
or learn French. 

Confronting her mirror to make 
up, she asked it sarcastically: ''Do you 
think you can drive? See? It really 
makes you look forty-three, eveiy^ day 
of it?” She didn't even like the smell 
of alcohol, but these delicious cock- 
tails, like Bloody Marys or margaritas, 
were her downfall. Last night she 
had, self-mockingly, kept mental 
count of her margaritas, but, perverse- 
ly, this only enhanced the pleasure of 
the indulgence. Ted was partly to 
blame — he didn't even go to the 
gym anymore, even just for the Jacuz- 
zi. His getting so paunchy, after he’d 
promised, undermined her own re- 
solve. Not much past two o’clock, she 
locked the front door and crunched 
down the driveway to her Buick. 

Crunched? On firm asphalt? She 
paused. The sun, sloping past zenith, 
delicately shadowed a kind of trans- 
lucent fur. perhaps a quarter inch 
deep, covering most of the drive, 
with an especially thick circular patch 
just behind where Ted always parked 
the Cadillac. She scuffed at the stuff 

with the toe of her designer track 
shoe. It was crackly, but seemed to 
be giving rather than breaking under 
the prodding. She shook her head. As 
a SoCal girl, she had always deplored 
the creepy growths that northern 
California’s lushness fostered. She 
fired up the Buick and turned on the 
Montavani tape she had left in the 
deck. She sped down the silvery high- 
way — it was rather glittery today, 
wasn’t it? 

At the gym the strangest thing 
happened. With two other women, 
one of whom she knew slightly, she 
was sitting in the sauna. Tina Clay- 
more, who managed a boutique in 
Coddingtown Center, was saying to 

"Boy, this dry heat can sure get to 
your nose and throat sometimes, can’t 

"Yeah. Mine really feels scratchy, 
too. What’s that on your legs, Tina?” 

Both bent to inspect Tina’s pallid 
thighs, flattened to ovoids on the 
sweat-dark bench. Her thighs looked 
dusty. A vanishingly fine, faint soot 
besprinkled them. Tina brushed at it, 
but it smeared into her sweat. "Look!” 
the third woman told Gail. "It’s on 
your arms and legs, too!” 

"Yow! And yours, too!” 

For a moment the three ladies 
twisted and splayed themselves to 
present all their surfaces to the weak, 
sulfiirous light — patting and spank- 
ing at their limbs, till all at once the 
scene they made struck them and 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

they all shakily laughed, and trooped 

They were in the showers, soap- 
ing lustily, when the instructress got 
back to them. She pushed her twenty- 
year-old, T-shirted upper half into 
the room and told them brightly: 

“I was right! Rod says it’s just a 
little soot — the gas heaters have 
been burning a little sooty all day!” 

The girl’s sunny self-approval 
vexed Tina Claymore, to whom soap- 
suds gave clownishly exaggerated 
breasts, as though some grotesque 
lichen had overgrown them. ‘‘Well 
that’s just peachy! Peachy! Why didn’t 
you tell us?” 

‘‘I haven’t been in the sauna to- 
day,” the girl said, looking stung. ‘‘Rod 
just forgot, I guess. It’ll wash right 
off, won’t it?” 

‘‘But it still itches. And what about 
my nose and throat? They’re scratchy, 

Gail privately agreed that her skin 
also felt a bit prickly, but she didn’t 
detain herself to make an issue of it. 
Purposefully, she dried and dressed. 
It was patty-melt time at the Fern ’n 

From there she called Ted at four, 
to see if there were any errands that 
needed running before things started 
closing. Ted didn’t feel like talking. 
He had ‘‘a goddamned sore throat.” 
He said he’d meet her at eight at The 
Cattleman’s for dinner, and hung up. 
Just as she returned to her table, her 
food arrived. It was exquisite, except 

that the meat had an odd extra crisp- 
ness and — very faint, so discreet as 
to be rather pleasing — a slight bitter- 


^^ale was an entomologist out at 
Sonoma State. He had bought one of 
the little motor courts — proto- 
motels of thirties vintage — still to be 
found decaying along Old River High- 
way, which had been the 101 of the 
pre-freeway era. The office and the 
first two cabins were built of a piece, 
and this structure Dale had inhabit- 
ed. By knocking out the connecting 
walls, he had created a single large 
living space with three bathroom cu- 
bicles, the office kitchen, and the old 
registration desk left standing by the 
office door, the only one Dale made 
use of 

A Charlie Musselwhite tape launch- 
ed and wailed room-fillingly. Near 
the entry the TV, sans sound track, 
beamed the Playboy Channel, which 
Ken, a great lounger and sprawler, 
watched from the couch. He had a 
Buckhorn in one hand, the remote 
control in the other, and in his 
thoughts the hard truth, ever less ig- 
norable, that they were out of beer. 
Dale was more of a pacer and an arm 
waver, and he was near the rear of 
the room. Here were the bookshelves 
and dart board, and here he liked to 
do much of his ranting and raving. 

Fill It With Regubr 


while throwing darts. A blown-up 
photo of an ant, pinned to a cork- 
board, was his target. Big and sham- 
bling though Dale was, and eruptive 
with his restless thoughts, time and 
again the patterns of six darts he 
threw came creditably close to pin- 
ning all the insect’s feet — Ken 
glanced over and checked now and 
then. Dale had paused in his mono- 
logue, and Ken sighed. 

“So come on, man! Money me! We 
need some more beer — you’ve been 
pecking at that one can for the last 

“It was the only one I got my 
hands on in your whole six-pack!’’ 

“Wait,” said Ken, palm raised. 
There was a wet T-shirt contest on 
the screen, and the guy with the 
bucket had finally gotten to the bru- 
nette. Ken watched her get it. “So?” 
he resumed. “All the more reason to 
get some more. ” 

“It’s amazing!” Dale grinned, pok- 
ing another dart into the air. It landed 
in the ant’s upper right tarsus. “How 
routinely, with such minimal effort, 
you get money out of me! A few solici- 
tational gestures — a bow, a tap of the 
antennae, a nudge to the gullet — and 
I disgorge a big, fat drop of my hard- 
earned nectar. Just like Atta texana." 

“Don’t be an asshole. You know 
you have it, you know you’ll get it 
back, you know in the meantime I’ll 
buy beer and enchiladas with it, and 
you know you’re going to lend it to 
me in the end!” 

“That’s exactly it!” Dale crowed. 
“I’m going to do it! And I seem to 
have no more power over regurgitat- 
ing this sugary blob of monetary en- 
ergy than the poor insect does!” 

“You’re a scientist. Dale! Energy 
is collected in nature only to be util- 
ized, dispensed, dissipated — con- 
verted into some other form. Beer, in 
this case.” 

Dale, not listening, smiled at his 
own thought: “And I let you sap me, 
you see, of that sugary blob, for one 
reason alone, one that should make 
all scientists humble. Because even 
the smartest of them — why, even /— 
even 1 am no more essentially free of 
my nature than the lowly bugs I 
study!” He threw a dart, which lodged 
a quarter inch off the mid-right tarsal 
claw. Ken regarded Dale. 

“1 think that’s just incredibly hum- 
ble of you. Dale.” 

Dale took up his beer. He began 
lis professional patrol of the big 
room, pacing comfortably, causing 
for Ken two regular eclipses of the 
TV screen as he orbited. He said: 

“It’s a fact! A fact made banal by 
the facile affirmation of the heedless! 
You, Kenny, though only an artist, 
might guess at the arrogance that can 
go with a little knowledge among 
scientists. However much as we know 
and can do, we mustn’t swagger 
through the cosmos. Inevitably, some 
form exists that’s perfectly adapted 
to exploit us in spite of all our tech- 
nical furnishings.” 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

Ken, musing, laughed. Daleys 
length of limb, the seemingly erratic 
emphasis of his movements, were ant- 
like. ‘i have to buy that image. Dale, 
rd like to draw you that way — as an 
Atta worker disgorging your wallet 
from gaping mandibles.” 

Dale was nodding as he paced, as- 
senting not to Ken, but to another 
dawning insight of his own. ‘‘Look 
here, Kenny. You’ve always confessed 
that my erudition gives you graphic 
inspirations. So to hell with this pid- 
dling parasitism — a hundred here, a 
hundred there. Let’s get a real mutu- 
alism going.” Dale’s orbital speed in- 
creased as he warmed to the idea. 
‘‘I’ll ape that noble scale insect so 
famous for her fungal parasite. I’ll be 
industrious Cfoionaspis cornu pump- 
ing the sap of learning from my aca- 
demic branch. You, of course, will be 
Septobasidium, the fungus whose 
spores 1 ingest and that sprouts from 
the interstices of my dorsal sclera. At 
first, you see, 1 house you, and I feed 
your oeuvre from my brimming brain. 
Soon, you’re making real bucks in the 
art racket, and the tables turn. You 
house me grandly, as the embower- 
ing fungus doth the bug! Muriel moves 
in, we mate and reproduce and live as 
your coddled tenants from then on. 
The analogy’s not perfect, of course. 
Septobasidium sterilizes its living 
plant pot. It’s her sisters’ offspring 
that the fungal tenement roofs and 
feeds with its plumb sporangia. In 
our case, my own reproduction would 

be fostered by the setup — all the 
better for science, of course.” 

‘‘I dunno. Dale, I can’t quite pic- 
ture this one. Me growing out of the 
cracks in your dorsal sclera and all. 
Suppose I think about it, and mean- 
while you give me the fucking money 
so we can get some beer?” 

Still smiling in the afterglow of his 
ironic vision. Dale tossed Ken his 
wallet. “Finally!” Ken said. He plucked 
the money and tossed the wallet back. 
“So let’s make it a ride — take Reibli 
through the hills a ways. Bring the Ry 
Cooder tape.” 

Dale took the tape from the rack. 
“Time’s a-wastin’. Sonny!” he said, 
following Ken out the door. He 
paused to lock it, and turned as Ken 
was firing up the Maverick. Where 
the exhaust boiled against the drive, 
Dale thought he saw an odd glitter, 
but he was impatient to ride out and 
take the sun, and just got into the car. 

Their windows overflowing Cood- 
er’s Trouble, Dale patting time on the 
doorsill with his jutting elbow, they 
roared down Redwood, up Mark West, 
and swung onto Reibli, which mean- 
dered along the hills just under their 
crests. In a pause between cuts, Ken 

“What’s that? That crackling, hear 


They pulled onto the shoulder 
and got out. What they found shocked 
them. They saw it best when they 
squatted on the shoulder and looked 
at the road surface along the angle of 

Fill It WHh ReguUr 


incidence of the latening sunlight: a 
fine, translucent furriness perhaps a 
half inch deep, all over the asphalt. It 
was finer, really, than the finest fur, 
yet its countless fibrils were made 
opulently distinct by the glints of dif- 
fraction their innumerable curvatures 
shed. The friends gaped at each oth- 
er, poked and pinched the stuff. 

“As far as you can see!” Ken said, 
“the whole road!’* 

“It’s tough, Kenny! The tires don’t 
crush it! It springs back! And these 
little droplet formations all through 
it. Like sporangia. Damn if it doesn’t 
look like some incredible mold my- 

“Road-eating mold?’’ 

“What can I say? There’s a mold 
that eats creosote. I’ve heard . . .’’ 

“Let’s keep going,’’ They drove 
on, without music. Only occasionally 
could they see its faint flash, but the 
frosty noise of it was continuous, 
though it wove easily into the susur- 
ration of a moving car. And didn’t it 
intensify noticeably as they dropped 
more trafficked streets into Santa Ro- 
sa? They tried to see if other motor- 
ists were noticing it — and then they 
turned onto a broad westbound street 
that dropped through the center of 
town. Now the crush of it was louder 
still, its slight resistance to their tires 
grew palpable — and this asphalt 
laneway to the sinking sun was lad- 
dered with ghostly smears of rainbow 
no one could miss. Now cars flowing 
in both directions were carrying peo- 

ple who were pointing out the road- 
way to each other. Ken swung north, 
and pulled in at Pap’s Liquors on 
Mendocino Avenue. 

Inside, with his twelve -packs and 
quart of Jack Daniels on the counter 
between them, Ken asked the woman 
at the register: 

“What’s with this stuff on the 
streets? Has it been like this all day?’’ 

‘Tou know, for the last hour or 
so, everybody's been asking that. I 
couldn’t tell what the heck they were 
talking about at first. You can really 
see these, like, flashes of color off it 
now, can’t you?’’ She mused on her 
view of the street, as though it were a 
picture in a travel brochure, or a tele- 
cast. “Oh dear!’’ she cried. “There’s 
another one!’’ 

“Another what?’’ 

“Poor doggie! We saw one just a 
little while ago, and I asked this man 
was in here if it could be, you know, 
mad, but he said no, when they were 
mad they just foamed at the mouth. 
Oh dear!’’ 

The dog, a mixed shepherd, flinch- 
ed away and cantered down the side- 
walk when Dale, newly amazed, went 
out and tried to coax the animal to 
hand. It was as if the dog felt some 
particular humiliation in its affliction 
—to have its all-questioning nose so 
strangely furred with a grayish thistle- 
down that it could neither sneeze 
nor rub away. 

Driving back up Redwood, Ken 
said, “I know it’s got our attention 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

now and all, but Td swear it wasn’t 
this thick an hour ago. We’d have 
heard it through the music.” 

“Park right where you were, Ken- 
ny. There was something I saw under 
your tail pipe ” 

This proved to be a patch of mark- 
edly thicker and taller road-growth. 
“When you first came over, you idled 
here a little before killing your en- 

“I was listening to the last part of 
a cut.” 

Dale nodded. ‘‘So . . . diffusion by 
automotive exhaust?” Both men gazed 
up and down the roadway. “I’m going 
to make some phone calls,” Dale said, 
“and I think I won’t be the only one 
doing it.” 

‘‘Good idea. I’ll wash us out a 
couple of glasses.” 



■ ed Fennerman sat at his desk, his 
chair clicked back at its rest angle. 
From his window he looked across 
his lot, the enameled candy colors of 
mint-new car tops, at the sky. Its 
dusky blue was turning purple as 
gradually as Ted imagined wine must 
ripen in a vat, or whatever they made 
wine in. 

When business had been good, 
this was always an hour Ted savored, 
like a liqueur sipped privately. He 
watched the arc of 101 that wrapped 
the south end of his lot, watched the 

dinner-bound traffic’s headlights 
coming on like stars. He pictured, in- 
dividually, the day’s sales, each shep- 
herded singly from his corral of glos- 
sy stock, and frisking with their new 
owners out to graze on 101 ’s long 
pasture and raise the happy roar of 
their vitality. 

Not so this evening, though busi- 
ness had been very good. Tonight, 
bone-weary and naggingly sore of 
throat, he couldn’t taste the tang of it 
all. He’d told his secretary hours ago 
that he was out to calls; it seemed 
such an effort just to talk. He’d sat 
and fought his way through desk work, 
but at last ground to a halt. Lines of 
text had grown vague and slippery 
like snowed-under road; his pen 
lurched with a balky clutch, or lost it 
on the curves. 

What kind of wimp was he? he 
asked himself bitterly. A simple god- 
damned sore throat, and bam — he 
was belly-up on the canvas. It was gal- 
ling to feel too weak to strike when 
the iron was so hot. He had promised 
himself that he would go in on that 
new franchise with Clark Mannheim 
if things stayed even half as good as 
they’d actually been going. Clark 
wasn’t going to stand around waiting 
to be kissed forever — he’d find 
someone else. Ted thought of all those 
TV ads where tired businessmen bun- 
gled big deals for lack of the right 
antihistamine-and-aspirin compound 
—dumb, though there was a grain of 
truth. You feel just a little off your 

riH It WHh Regular 


feed, and it could cost you some im- 
portant moment. 

Ted shook himself groggily, to 
wake his will. He snapped his chair 
up to its no-nonsense angle. He 
breathed deeply and punched Clark’s 
number. When the receiver clicked 
open, he again drew breath for a 
hearty greeting. Clark’s voice said: 

“Gullub!” Ted boomed. “Glarg?” 

“What? Who is this?” 

Ted, as shocked as Clark sounded, 
gaped at the phone. He clapped it 
back to his head and cried: “Glarg!? 
Gellub?!” Now fear raked his heart. 
He slammed the phone down, 
jumped up. Clicking on his washroom 
light, he saw his mouth loom gaping 
up to the mirror over the sink, as if to 
devour it. An eerie, pale fur thronged 
his throat and flourished from his 
gums. He moaned, watching his shag- 
gy tongue shudder in its weedy pit, 
like some hibernating monster tor- 
mented by a dream. Ted Fennerman 
headed for the hospital without fur- 
ther attempts on the phone. 

When Gail, after waiting through 
half an hour and two piha coladas at 
a table at the Cattleman’s, called the 
lot, she learned Ted had left long be- 
fore without a word to anyone. So 
she went back and ordered her sir- 
loin and a third colada — a double. 

The drink seemed spiritless, but it 
did soothe a touch of soreness in her 
throat — Ted’s bug no doubt — and 
help numb a general itchiness that 

had persisted since the sauna. See the 
cycle? she asked herself. Get hung 
over, get lowered resistance, get sick, 
and then you wind up having more 
cocktails for relief But she couldn’t 
seem to care, and ordered another 
double when the steak came. 

The restaurant seemed to promote 
her lassitude. Usually thronged, it was 
rather empty tonight; and in spite of 
this, it was short-staffed, too — her 
waitress had apologized in advance, 
saying they were not only lacking 
table help, but were short on cooks, 
too. Gail ate. Even with plenty of 
horseradish, the steak entertained her 
dulled palate only mildly. She finished 
it, though well before the last bite, 
she was beginning to feel almost drug- 
ged, as though she had ingested an 
anchor that tried to drag her head af- 
ter it as it sank. 

To hell with her thoughtless bas- 
tard of a husband. He’d forgotten her, 
gone home, was already resting. 
Thanks to him, she’d been stranded 
here to overeat and overdrink, but 
she’d waste no more time waiting on 
him. She’d get home and get off her 
feet. Slowly but decisively, Gail wiped 
her lips, rose, and walked out. 

She stood in the parking lot. Out 
on Montgomery the midevening traf- 
fic looked pretty heavy. Did it sound 
extra screechy? More brakes and 
horns than usual? There! That tow 
truck nearly piled into that station 
wagon there at the light. She’d have 
to be very careful driving home. 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

“Mrs. Fcnncrman!” It was her 
waitress. The girl looked worried as 
well as tired. She seemed to stare a 
bit at Gail’s face as she said: ‘Tou for- 
got your coat. And the check . . .?” 

“Oh dear! I’m sorry! I feel so woo- 
zy tonight . . The girl was looking 
at her face, strangely, as they went 
back inside. Gail smiled self-depreca- 
tingly at the cashier as she extended 
the woman her credit card. The cash- 
ier gasped, and Gail, seeing what made 
her do so, felt her head wobble at the 
shock as though lightly punched: her 
own forearm and hand, all silkily be- 
furred with an exquisite lawn of pal- 
lid fine filaments a quarter inch long, 
like freshest, tenderest shoots of 



■ he windows, long gray with dawn, 
were turning buttery with sunrise. 
“Jesus Christ!’’ Ken said, keying down 
the newscast’s volume. He and Ken 
sat in a kind of information trance, 
stunned by nightlong revelations. “I 
feel like a kid,” Ken said. “After a 
three-flick matinee, paralyzed by a 
sugar whiteout, my brain gorged with 
weird images, coming out into an af- 
ternoon sun so bright it hurts. I knew 
— I knew I should’ve stocked up bet- 
ter yesterday. I mentioned it, right? 
And now, God rot me. I’ve got to 
drive into town before it’s too late 
—before it’s three inches deep.” 

Dale shook his head and gestured 
at the screen. “Didn’t you see how 
traffic’s starting to slip and slide?” 

“It still looks steerable to me. 
There won’t be much traffic on Red- 
wood. It’s now or never.” 

“Well, if you break down, stay off 
the road walking back. And get some 
food. Something in cans, and eatable 
cold. Chili or stew.” 

Ken rose, scattering empty beer 
cans, loath to be reminded of the 
fungus’s capacity for rooting in flesh. 
Shutting the door after him, he looked 
with hate at the drive, where the fun- 
gal mat was now a lush two inches 
deep. He did a lumbering ballet across 
it, his soles cringing from the con- 
tact, and hauled himself into the 
Maverick. He feared his ill-tuned en- 
gine stalling, so he idled till it was 
good and warm. It mortified him that 
in doing this, he was feeding his 
world’s new enemy, helplessly stok- 
ing the biological conflagration that 
had somehow, overnight, embraced 
it. The suspicion nagged him that this 
would be just how evolution’s fall- 
guys, the adaptively overtaken breeds, 
always exited the stage; by a droll, 
inadvertent suicide, mechanically rev- 
ving up their long-sacred tricks of 
survival that the upstart, by some dire 
new ingenuity, has turn to death traps. 
He gunned onto Old Redwood High- 
way’s long mycelial lawn. 

It was supple. Its slick toughness 
made the curves tricky. At least he 
was rolling — his tires could have 

Fill It With Regular 


been fused with the road. It had hap* 
pened to thousands of vehicles left 
parked overnight on heavily traf- 
ficked urban streets, which had been 
superabundantly seeded with exhaust- 
borne spores. This lush crop’s greedy 
upreach was answered by the germi- 
nation of a second form of spore, the 
strictly wind-bome kind produced by 
the road surface growth, and with 
which the treads of all cars that had 
been driven the day before were 
packed. By the time, two hours ago, 
the earliest commuters stepped out 
to their mounts, many found them 
crouched on crumbling flats that were 
already half digested by this devil 
grass growing from beneath and with- 
in. Ken, at some risk, stayed near 
forty, knowing his own venerable re- 
treads must already be dying from 

Maneuver proved little worse than 
on a slushy, half-snowed road, but in 
fact — wasn’t the fungus beginning 
to look met here and there? What was 
this, some new wrinkle? Should he 
call it in? The thought, an instant lat- 
er, forced a laugh from him. Oh yes, 
report it! Add his jot of awe and 
stupefaction to the general delirium! 
Since TV’s Tribal Eye first squinted at 
the streets on last night’s six o’clock 
news, and blinking anchormen— 
raising uncertain voices above the 
rush-hour roar — had affirmed the in- 
festation, the municipal, technical, 
and military sectors of the area had 
been caucusing with state authori- 

ties. They had clashed and confer- 
enced throughout the night, all con- 
sensus eluding them. Information- 
pooling switchboards were quickly 
formed and publicized, and the data 
for a sketchy etiology of the eco- 
plague were soon gathered. But as 
long as continued observation showed 
the roads to be drivable, all involved 
willingly shunned the contemplation 
of their clearest countermeasure— 
the interdiction of all public thor- 
oughfares. So vast an arrest of circu- 
lation, assuming it could even be 
brought off, seemed itself a catac- 
lysm, a mortal shock that must pro- 
duce unguessed-at mayhem among 
the bottled masses. They flooded the 
media with advisories, put troops and 
cops on alert, and waited. And with 
the dawn, people started trooping 
out to their usual commutes, also 
waiting to see what would happen. 
As though the simple wonder of the 
thing had universally captured peo- 
ple’s curiosity, the sheer scope and 
unity of it. A fungus, stunningly pro- 
liferative, that thrived on hydrocar- 
bons of every kind. 

Gasoline and some municipal sup- 
plies of natural gas were thought to 
be its initial vector, at least in Cali- 
fornia and others of the heaviest-hit 
states. The mechanisms of its contin- 
uing diffusion were no mystery. The 
fungus’s omniperipheral advance, by 
mycelial branching, was incredibly 
rapid in itself, of course, through any 
food matrix. But with the combustion 


Fantasy 8t Science Fiction 

of that matrix, the mycelium it con- 
tained underwent a fusion and a heat- 
triggered concentration of genetic 
material, and resolved itself into a 
gust of exeeedingly small and num- 
erous spores. Hence the roadways 
were only the first of many zones that 
those first vectors had seeded, since 
most of a tail pipe’s tillage went aloft 
to haunt the troposphere. Were was 
the real scope of this thing, and it 
made Ken shiver slightly, imagining 
that global microsnow, that sooty 
seed like a gauze-fine, wide-flung 
shroud settling right now — softly, 
softly — down upon them all. What 
could anybody do but drive out to 
business as usual through this awe- 
some newness that had been laid up- 
on the world? 

At the liquor store he called the 
hot line on the pay phone. The wet 
spots on the mold weren’t news to 
the tired-sounding woman he got. 
“Enzyme puddles, they think,” she 
said bleakly. “Stay off the roads, espe- 
cially the freeways.” 

“Yeah,” said Ken, who could hear 
1 0 1’s roar a quarter mile from where 
he stood. He went in and got two 
cans of stew, two twelve -packs of 
Buckhorn, and a half gallon of Jim 
Beam. Reapproaching his car, he saw 
two black smears matching his tires’ 
path, and seeming to melt into the 
mold even as he watched. Further 
provisionings must surely be made 
afoot, and the imbalance of his sup- 
plies bothered him. He went back in 

and got another half gallon of Beam. 

He drove fast, as the few other 
cars on Redwood were doing, slew- 
ing and screeching. His tires were 
spongy now, taunting him with col- 
lapse. He rolled past vineyard and 
pasture, trailer parks and sprawled 
junkyarded country houses. Fine fun- 
gal lawns toupeed all asphalt-shin- 
gled roofs — white lawns where an- 
tennas stood like stark, futuristic 
trees. Furred garden hoses lay in yards 
like feathered snakes in the grass. 
The pallid fuzz outlining window 
frames baffled him till he realized the 
monomers composing most caulks 
were hydrocarbons. On one porch he 
saw a shuddering puftball shape — 
just discernibly a dog, on its back, 
fighting to breathe, its paws kneading 
the air. Ken’s rear left tire gasped, 
and sagged, and started jouncing. He 
braked, the brakes locked, the Mave- 
rick came ass-around, crossed the 
shoulder, dropped its rear in a rain 
ditch, and blew the tire on the right. 

Raging, he got out hugging his 
bag, hotfooted across the sporulating 
mat, and jumped the ditch. He landed 
ankle-deep in sweet, sane, earthly 
grass — and partly in a cowpat. He 
roared some nouns and gerundives, 
found and flung an illogical rock at 
his car, whose front left tire sank 
with a wet cough. Ken broke out a 
beer and strode north, hurrying not 
to hear the last tire go. He stooped 
through the wire and straddled the 
wooden fences, and tiptoed the high- 

Fill It With Regular 


way only where berry-choked streams 
compelled it. The space he moved 
through now was that magnified space 
into which everyone emerges from a 
failed car — full-scale space, toilsome 
and time-swallowing, where to reap 
one aim or object, you had to plow 
across acres of hours. “1 should Ve 
stocked up better,” Ken muttered. 
He shifted his burden and cursed the 
weight of the stew. 

Dale was where he had left him, 
but sitting straighter, rapt in the 
newscast again. ‘‘Enzyme slicks, Ken- 
ny! Like a sudden digestive assault. 
What is it, near nine? Look there!” 

‘‘Man! That’s 101 north of No- 

‘‘Yup! Just where the southbound 
backup always starts — and 1 think its 
being rush hour’s saved a lot of lives. 
From there on down, no one was go- 
ing very fast when the fungus came 

They watched an aerial view of 
confluent freeways where, at this 
hour, San Francisco-bound traffic rou- 
tinely braked to join a creeping clog 
twenty miles long. Today the free- 
flowing traffic had come up on the 
clog at lower than usual speeds, 
though generally drivers had man- 
aged to maintain a cautious, coping 
flow over this invader of their path. 
They came in slower, but the enzy- 
matic sweat was brutally sudden in 
its increase, and their tires had turned 
greasy in their swift liquefaction. 
Brakes jammed fruitlessly. With seem- 

ing abandon — some with fey, ballet- 
ic half turns — cars skied into the 
phalanxed bumpers of the idling 

Now the clog sat unmoving on 
twenty miles of flats, smoke penciling 
up here and there from the rivered 
vehicular jigsaw. South of the crazed 
skewing of the pileup zone, the jum- 
bling of the derelict armada was less 
severe, though everywhere were side- 
ways chromeboats with crumpled 
corners, ram-welded pairs of tailgat- 
ing muscle-cars, and jacknifed semis 
pillowed on luckless imports. Diced 
safety glass, like a sugar spill, every- 
where jeweled the prickly vigor, the 
pubic wetness of the mold. 

The network’s helicopter caught 
four others in its scan, two winching 
up wounded. The anchorman’s voice- 
over announced his own craft’s re- 
turn south to base to be refurbished 
for rescue work. Thereafter, his shak- 
ily improvised script tended to re- 
lapse to a formula, an awed dirge: 
‘‘And of course here we’re seeing 101 
as it approaches San Rafael . . . And 
this of course is 101 climbing past 
Marin ...” Already most of the vehi- 
cles were abandoned, while the peo- 
ple in their tens of thousands, in four 
streams choppy with contrariety, 
trudged along both sides of the free- 
way’s two corridors, as clotted in this 
progress as they had been in their 
cars. As an image, Ken found it very 
moving. As if he viewed an epochal 
event — mankind at last abjuring 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

some vast, ambiguous enterprise, a 
millennial pilgrimage frozen in its 
tracks by a cataclysmic unison of 
doubt, and abandoned at long last, all 
dismounting, all returning their my- 
riad of separate ways. Their sun-blaz- 
oned fleet, while it roared, had 
seemed aimed, an army. It looked 
now like an aborted stampede. 

“The shine of it! Christ!” Dale al- 
most enthused. “It's almost puddled 
with enzymes.” 

“Tell me about it. Did you hear 
my car pull in? It’s ass-in-a-ditch 
two miles back on four flats. Have a 

“And food?” 

“In the bag. You know I just can't 
buy it, any kind of Russki gene-engi- 
neering angle. Why conquer a place 
so you can't get around in it once it's 
yours? They'd make something that 
went for the people primarily.” 

“This stuff doesn't do so bad on 
people,” Dale said from the kitchen, 
plying a can opener. 

“Yeah, but you've got to practical- 
ly gargle or smoke spores to get it 

Dale found a fork and came back 
to his chair. “It's not Russki, of course. 
It's off-world, obviously.” He began 
gobbling stew. Ken nodded readily, 
but found he had to clear his throat. 

“Right. Designed by another en- 
vironment. And damn if I can imagine 
what kind of setup could produce . . . 

Dale sat forking, musing. His fork- 

ing slowed a beat or two, and he in- 
terlarded it with conjectures. “Bio- 
logically hot world? Teeming? Epochs 
of floral/faunal explosion. Organic 
sumps capped. With limestone by shal- 
low seas, like here? Vast petrochemi- 
cal deposits, in any case. But lots of 
venting to the surface. By vulcanism? 
Other seismic events? So plenty of tar 
pools, asphalt seeps, burning vents of 
natural gas.” Dale forked up the last 
muddy lump, dropped his fork in the 
empty can, belched, and sighed. Ken, 
though bleakly, had to laugh. 

“Somehow, I see you. Dale. A ti- 
tanothere of that alien Tertiary, shuf- 
fling to a flaming tar pit, munching 
the sludge.” 

“The flaming vents,” added Dale 
composedly, “would promote the 
evolution of combustive sporulation, 
of course.” 

It sobered them a moment, this 
naming of that most frightening fun- 
gal trick. The ragged carbon micro- 
shells that their seemingly destruc- 
tive birth created for the spores made 
them infinitely responsive to air cur- 
rents, amazingly invasive and adher- 
ent once in contact with a food ma- 
trix. Was there even now a just per- 
ceptible tickle of their fall through 
the air? They sat feeling the noise and 
stir of this new day rising around 
them, the unimaginable nationwide 
disorders, the dinosaurian bawl of 
mired commerce, of eighteen-wheel 
giants who lay half devoured by the 
very paths they trod. 

FiN It With Regular 




I ^ear the close of that same day, 
Sheri Klugman, Gail Fennerman’s 
younger sister, blinked away tears, 
turning her face for a moment to the 
windows and the honey-and-roses 
light of dusk. Roy Hummer sat with 
bhis eyes commiserately downcast. 
He was experienced in the resurgences 
of grief his clients suffered in these 
interviews, but he was also exceed- 
ingly tired. This was his twelfth trans- 
action since noon — all twelve of 
them involving loved ones in the Fen- 
nermans’ condition. 

“I’m sorry,’’ Sheri said, resettling 
with a sigh the burden of composure 
on her shoulders. “It’s just this awful 
suddenness of everything ...” 

“Please. You have our entire sym- 
pathy. And I know it’s a terrible added 
burden, this time limit for disposal— 
disposition of your loved ones.” 

“Yes . . . well, I guess it’s lucky 
that we live close enough to attend 
. . . Midnight tonight does feel so . . . 
hurried, though.” 

“Yes, of course, we’re terribly sor- 
ry.” Watch that tone of voice, Roy 
told himself. “It’s certainly never been 
our way of doing things, this tactless 
hurry. But you can sec that from a 
sani — a medical viewpoint . . .?” 

Grief rcsurged in Sheri, overflow- 
ing as plaintiveness. “Do you really 
think that an open-casket ceremony 
isn’t . . . ?” 

“No, that’s quite definite. I’m 
afraid.” Roy paused, and warned him- 
self again. “You see, with this thing 
there’s just nothing we can do. It’s 
too tough to be, ah, shaved off. Even 
if it could be, there is a considerable, 
an extensive amount of shriveling, 
frankly — do you follow me?” He saw 
that Sheri, with the inattentiveness of 
sorrow, was looking out the window 
again. Roy felt frayed and gritty. He 
wanted a shower. He wanted to sleep. 
Sheri’s eyes were full again. The wom- 
an was plainly dazed, powerless to 
leave alone the few futilities remain- 
ing of her sister. With the helpless 
iteration of bereavement, she said: 

“They were just both so definite 
—whenever it came up, I mean, about 
both wanting to be cremated—” 

“No way,” Roy Hummer snapped. 
“That’s all there is to it. We’re re- 
specting the emergency ordinance 
100 percent. So please just take it or 
leave it. Miss Klugman.” 



^crew the whole effort. Why strug- 
gle?” Ken asked, though he didn’t 
stop working. It was the following af- 
ternoon. He was encasing his shoe 
and ankle in an aluminum foil bootie, 
crinkling it on sheet by sheet, secur- 
ing it round the ankle with rubber 
bands. Dale already had his booties 
on. He tossed Ken a paper particle 
mask and stowed others, left over 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

from his remodeling, into one of the 
two knapsacks lying readied on the 

“Hunger and thirst,” he answered. 

“Boy. Look at that. Dale,” The 
TV’s copter-bome eye scanned down 
over an oil tanker docked at Long 
Beach. The voice-over was saying: 
“As you can see, the fittings of those 
off-load hoses are densely covered 
with the mold, and as I say, the sam- 
ples from what’s still in the tanker as 
well as what’s now in the onshore 
tanks have both tested positive for in- 
festation. You can see, too, how these 
pipelines to the holding tanks in the 
hills are also covered. Officials have 
told us that this is merely a surface 
growth on a bituminous cover that’s 
put on all gas pipeline to protect it 
from corrosion and weathering ...” 

“Christ!” Dale said. “What’s it mat- 
ter? That tanker was half off-loaded 
before they stopped! Three-quarters 
of a million barrels!” 

“Know what they said last night, 
while you were asleep?” Ken asked, 
booting his other foot. “Seems they 
inject natural gas into the ground — 
to force up the pressure of crude 
they’re pumping? So it turns out a lot 
of this natural gas also tests positive 
for infestation.” 

“Hoo boy,” Dale said quietly. The 
newsman was now narrating a flyby 
of one of the Long Beach refineries. It 
belonged, he said, to one of the first 
of the big oil companies to comply 

with the federal immediate-shutdown 
order, acting within twenty-four scant 
hours of receiving it. The furnaces 
beneath, and bum-off pipes above; 
its fractionating towers had been 
quenched for several hours now. Ev- 
ery valve and juncture in its python’s 
nest of pipes was muffed with mold. 
Gaskets everywhere — however thick, 
sandwiched at whatever pressures — 
were digested to monomers to feed 
the alien biopolymer, and wherever 
gas drizzled in result, the mycelium 
grew in ghastly whiskers, along the 
undersides of pipe, in streamers trail- 
ing down to puddles, like moss dust- 
ing every secret little creek of leak- 
age woven through the installation. 
And of course, as the hills and graded 
bluffs the storage tanks stood on were 
all capped with asphalt, the whole 
plant was environed with sweeping 
pastures of the pale predator. 

“Think of it, Kenny.” Dale still 
sounded subdued. “Those bum-off 
pipes just shut off this morning. Giant 
spore nozzles, pumping the atmos- 
phere full like it was just another 
giant tank.” 

The voice-over, having discoursed 
on gaskets, was saying: “Chuck, I 
think, was pointing out earlier that 
here in L.A., the inversion layer has 
made airborne infestation of petrol- 
eum products in general an especial- 
ly severe problem. Crated TVs still in 
the factory warehouses have been 
opened, and the insulation of their 
wiring found infested. And that, in 

FiH It With Reguhr 


fact, is why we’re going to have this 
intermission in our telecopter report, 
because we’re very concerned to have 
our copter return to base for regular 
checks of the fuel line. That’s why 
you see us turning around right now, 
and what’s why it’s back to you now, 

The studio anchorman appeared, 
conjured by his name. “Right, Dave, 
and thank you. And you’ll be back on 
the air about noon for continued 
coverage of the Long Beach area?” 

‘‘That’s right, Chuck. I. , . . Ah, it 
seems I’ll have to sign off a little 
quicker than. . . . the pilot says we 
have a sudden loss of fuel pressure 

The studio men had cut back to 
the copter’s video transmission, but 
the camera, being aimed out the cop- 
ter’s windshield, was half eclipsed by 
Dave’s panicked profile. Some move- 
ment of the man’s terror had killed 
the sound. He turned a blind stare, 
mouth moving, to the camera, then 
back to the view before them all. 
This now tilted and — shockingly- 
rushed upward. 

The studio, with quick cannibal- 
ism, cut in the video from a second 
copter, clearly fleeing the scene as it 
recorded Dave’s craft smashing to 
fire against the mossy, gas-rilled 
grounds. Smoke welled up. Flame 
bloomed, branched and probed root- 
like through the jungled steel, and 
then the fleeing copter cut transmis- 

sion and the studio anchor team was 
back on screen, so stunned that Chuck 
actually gave an astonished laugh. 
‘‘That really happened!” he said. “1 
mean . . .” 

Dale and Ken put on their packs, 
but stood waiting till a ground crew 
cut in transmission from a hilltop a 
mile from the refinery. There was a 
raving note in the reporter’s voice 
left from the fury he had just seen. He 
told of the storage tanks’ explosion 
moments before. The pair watched 
the black upward avalanche, the new 
hosts of spores storming up to mingle 
with their fellows under the inver- 
sion layer. Ken cracked the last beer, 
made room in it for bourbon, and 
spiked it. ‘‘So let’s go,” he said. 

They left the TV on — an irration- 
al, magical measure against its failure 
with the inevitable loss of electrical 
insulation — but there was relief in 
the firmness with which Dale shut 
and locked the door on its global 
window. They now marched — reso- 
lute, if shaky — into their local piece 
of the catastrophe, a share that 
seemed more manageable. The day 
was cloudless. Golden light waxed 
the blackish branches of the oaks and 
drenched the fields flanking Old Red- 
wood Highway, while through these 
fields a fair number of folk trudged, 
townward or back. Dividing them, 
the translucent luxuriance of the 
roadway was riverlike, something that 
made the people on either side more 
separate than could the gap alone. 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

They all walked through a country si- 
lence never known here with the 
freeway running so near. They looked 
rather dwarfed — in their unshelled 
littleness — by the green acres they 
had always zipped past. They traded 
calls here and there, in voices also 
dwarfed by the big, breeze -whispery 
trees. Many of them wore bandannas 
like silent-Western stickup man, and 
some wore masks like Ken and Dale’s. 

Both, as they walked in their 
bright-booted guise, felt a touch of 
unmeant circus gaiety in the specta- 
cle. Now dozens of cars, mired with- 
in a half hour of Ken’s mishap, were 
derelict on the ermined asphalt ~ 
whimsically angled, or half in ditches, 
or squared off in the disarray of im- 
pact. All were richly bearded on their 
greased underbellies; the interiors of 
most, those with plastic upholstery, 
were lavishly robed. There was some- 
thing of Mardi Gras in the long, dis- 
jointed rumba line of them. 

“Floats in the Fungus Bowl Pa- 
rade,’’ Ken said. “Aborted due to lack 
of tires.’’ The flanking power lines 
with their tufted insulation suggest- 
ed streamers, while a service station 
just ahead offered racks of furry tires, 
like festively frosted doughnuts. Dale 
gave a laugh that was half a groan. 

“I tell you, Kenny, we’re doomed! 
Look at those sporangia. I mean, as if 
the combustive spores aren’t enough, 
we’re getting this incredible ground 
crop in just three days! I mean, this 
stuff is fast. We either hit the bush. 

head for the unpaved hills, or we’ve 
had it. And you know, all the time it 
keeps nagging at me: how the hell did 
this stuff get here? I mean, did it just 
blow across space?’’ 

“How the hell do I know? Here.’’ 
Ken took the bottle from his pack 
and tilted some bourbon in under his 
mask, and Dale followed suit. “Once 
we pick up some more beers at Lark- 
field, we’ll both feel better,’’ Ken 

There was a crowd at Larkfield, 
and beer’s price had gone up sharply. 
They proceeded with three more 
twelve-packs, Ken grumbling. They 
gingerfooted on their silver feet 
through the shopping center — all 
paved — and across Mark West Road. 
After that there were fields to walk 
on again. Lifting their masks often to 
swallow beer, they climbed the high- 
way’s gradual rise to an overview of 
101, which swept near at this point, 
just above town. 

The freeway’s curve, the outward 
surge of it, acted as their TV had 
done, brought home afresh the con- 
tinental scope of this plague, the 
wheels of trade and travel locked in 
this hoarfrost coast to coast. They 
paused to ply the bourbon, hundreds 
of captured vehicles visible from here. 
All the sunlight, and the beauteous 
difhactions of the sporangia, made 
them seem numinous things, crude 
Elder Gods overtaken by an exuber- 
ant cosmos of simpler, more vigorous 
beings: a tow truck, its oily boom so 

FHI It With Regular 


bearded it seemed some exotic sail- 
backed being; a toppled bus like 
a giant bug cocooned or spider- 

“Hey. Look there,’* Ken said. “That 
Rolls behind the bus? It’s idling. 
Christ, you’d think the jackass 

“No, there’s a guy there that just 
leaned in and started it up! Look, 
there he is, moving up to that green 
van, see?’’ 

“Jesus Christ! That’s Al! Guy that 
works in a gas station up the road. 
What the hell’s he doingT* 

Al’s awkwardness and odd hesita- 
tions of three days ago were gone. He 
was a man of experience now. He 
grasped the van’s door handle as sure- 
ly as its owner might. The van yielded 
what he sought — the keys — for he 
geared it to neutral, fired it up, 
warmed it, and then left it idling on 
what remained to it of fuel. 

Al surveyed the way he had come, 
and then the way he was headed. He 
looked up at the sun and seemed to 
come to a decision. He sat down on 
the step-up of a big semi’s cab. He 
settled back with an odd complete- 
ness, so the step well and door re- 
ceived and propped him fully. Then 
he opened his shirt. Dividing his chest 

and stomach was a vertical red scar. 
Al grasped the flaps of this seam as 
briskly as he had his shirt, and spread 
open a slick chasm from which a 
multilegged blackness, about a small 
dog’s size, came nimbling down across 
his lap, and sprang thence to the fun- 
gal lawn. The hands that freed it fell 
slack as its last leg was plucked from 
the incision. 

The thing was glossy and quick. 
There was much of the insect about 
its structure, about its scissoring, mul- 
tiple mouthparts, with which it now 
began to gorge on the sporangia that 
sparkled everywhere around its stilt- 
ing legs. It wandered out to graze the 
jeweled laneway, while slump-headed 
Al stared empty-eyed. 

“Ah yes,” Dale said in a slow, 
strange voice. “A biologically hot 
world indeed. Full of remarkable 
forms. You know what, Kenny? See 
the pickup in that guy’s driveway 
over there? See the gun racks? Let’s 
go borrow a rifle, or bring him over 

“There must be thousands of them, 
man. All over.” 

“Yeah. But we can get this one.” 

This seemed to waken Ken a bit. 
“Right on,” he said. 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 


I received a letter from a reader 
the other day. It was hand written in 
crabbed penmanship so that it was 
very difficult to read. Nevertheless, I 
tried to make it out just in case it 
might prove to be important. 

In the first sentence, he told me 
he was majoring in English Literature 
but felt he needed to teach me sci- 
ence. (I sighed a bit, for I knew very 
few English Lit majors who are equip- 
ped to teach me science, but I am 
very aware of the vast state of my ig- 
norance, and I am prepared to learn 
as much as I can from anyone, how- 
ever low in the social scale, so I read 

It seemed that in one of my innu- 
merable essays, here and elsewhere, I 
had expressed a certain gladness at 
living in a century in which we finally 
got the basis of the Universe straight. 

I didn’t go into detail in the mat- 
ter, but what I meant was that we 
now know the basic rules governing 
the Universe, together with the gravi- 
tational interrelationships of its gross 
components, as shown in the theory 
of relativity worked out between 1905 
and 1916. We also know the basic 
rules governing the subatomic parti- 
cles and their interrelationships, since 
these are very neatly described by the 
quantum theory worked out between 
1900 and 1930. What’s more, we 
have found that the galaxies and clus- 

ters of galaxies are the basic units of the physical Universe, as discov- 
ered between 1920 and 1930. 

These are all twentieth century discoveries, you see. 

The young specialist in English Lit, having quoted me, went on to 
lecture me severely on the fact that in every century, people have 
thought they understood the Universe at last, and in every century they 
proved to be wrong. It follows that the one thing we can say about our 
modem “loiowledge” is that it is wrong. 

The young man then quoted with approval what Socrates had said on 
learning that the Delphic oracle had proclaimed him the wisest man in 
Greece. “If I am the wisest man,” said Socrates, “it is because 1 alone 
know that I know nothing.” The implication was that I was very foolish 
because I was under the impression I knew a great deal. 

Alas, none of this was new to me. (There is very little that is new to 
me; 1 wish my correspondents would realize this. ) This particular thesis 
was addressed to me a quarter of a century ago by John Campbell, who 
specialized in irritating me. He also told me that all theories are proven 
wrong in time. 

My answer to him was, “John, when people thought the earth was 
flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, 
they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is 
just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger 
than both of them put together.” 

The basic trouble, you see, is that people think that “right” and 
“wrong” are absolute, that everything that isn’t perfectly and complete- 
ly right is totally and equally wrong. 

However, I don’t think that’s so. It seems to me that right and wrong 
are fiizzy concepts, and I will devote this essay to an explanation of why 
I think so. 

First, let me dispose of Socrates because I am sick and tired of this 
pretense that knowing you know nothing is a mark of wisdom. 

No one knows nothing. In a matter of days, babies learn to recognize 
their mothers. 

Socrates would agree, of course, and explain that knowledge of trivia 
is not what he means. He means that in the great abstractions over 
which human beings debate, one should start without preconceived, 
unexamined notions, and that he alone knew this. (What an enormously 
arrogant claim!) 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

in his discussions of such matters as “What is justice?” or “What is 
virtue?” he took the attitude that he knew nothing and had to he in- 
structed by others. (This is called “Socratic irony,” for Socrates knew 
very well that he knew a great deal more than the poor souls he was 
picking on. ) By pretending ignorance, Socrates lured others into pro- 
pounding their views on such abstractions. Socrates, then, by a series of 
ignorant-sounding questions, forced the others into such a melange of 
self-contradictions that they would finally break down and admit they 
didn’t know what they were talking about. 

It is the mark of the marvelous toleration of the Athenians that they 
let this continue for decades and that it wasn’t till Socrates turned 
seventy, that they broke down and forced him to drink poison. 

Now where do we get the notion that “right” and “wrong” are 
absolutes? It seems to me that this arises in the early grades, when 
children who know very little are taught by teachers who know very 
little more. 

Young children learn spelling and arithmetic, for instance, and here 
we tumble into apparent absolutes. 

How do you spell sugar? Answer: s-u-g-a-r. That is right. Anything 
else is wrong. 

How much is 2 + 2? The answer is 4. That is right. Anything else is 

Having exact answers, and having absolute rights and wrongs, mini- 
mizes the necessity of thinking, and that pleases both students and 
teachers. For that reason, students and teachers alike prefer short 
answer tests to essay tests; multiple choice over blank short answer 
tests; and true-false tests over multiple choice. 

But short answer tests are, to my way of thinking, useless as a meas- 
ure of the student’s understanding of a subject. They are merely a test of 
the efficiency of his ability to memorize. 

You can see what I mean as soon as you admit that right and wrong 
are relative. 

How do you spell “sugar”? Suppose Alice spells it p-q-z-z-f and Gene- 
vieve spells it s-h-u-g-e-r. Both are wrong, but is there any doubt that 
Alice is wronger than Genevieve? For that matter, I think it is possible to 
argue that Genevieve’s spelling is superior to the “right” one. 

Or suppose you spell “sugar”: s-u-c-r-o-s-e, or Cj^H^^O,,. Strictly 
speaking, you are wrong each time, but you’re displaying a certain 



knowledge of the subject beyond conventional spelling. 

Suppose, then, the test question was: How many different ways can 
you spell “sugar”? Justify each. 

Naturally, the student would have to do a lot of thinking and, in the 
end, exhibit how much or how little he knows. The teacher would also 
have to do a lot of thinking in the attempt to evaluate how much or how 
little the student knows. Both, I imagine, would be outraged. 

Again, how much is 2 + 2? Suppose Joseph says? 2 + 2 = purple, while 
Maxwell says: 2 + 2 = 17. Both are wrong, but isn’t it fair to say that 
Joseph is wronger than Maxwell? 

Suppose you said: 2 + 2 = an integer. You’d be right, wouldn’t you? 
Or suppose you said: 2 + 2 = an even integer. You’d be rather righter. Or 
suppose you said? 2 + 2 = 3. 999. Wouldn’t you be nearly right? 

If the teacher wants 4 for an answer and won’t distinguish between 
the various wrongs, doesn’t that set an unnecessary limit to under- 

Suppose the question is, how much is 9 + 5, and you answer 2. Will 
you not be excoriated and held up to ridicule, and will you not be told 
that 9 + 5 = 14? 

If you were then told that 9 hours had passed since midnight and it 
was therefore 9 o’clock, and were asked what time it would be in 5 
more hours, and you answered 14 o’clock on the grounds that 9 + 5 = 
14, would you not be excoriated again, and told that it would be 2 
o’clock? Apparently, in that case, 9 + 5 = 2 after all. 

Or again suppose, Richard says: 2 + 2 = 11, and before the teacher 
can send him home with a note to his mother, he adds, “To the base 3, 
of course.” He’d be right. 

Here’s another example. The teacher asks: “Who is the 40th Presi- 
dent of the United States?” and Barbara says, “There isn’t any, teacher.” 

“Wrong!” says the teacher, “Ronald Reagan is the 40th President of 
the United States.” 

“Not at all,” says Barbara, “I have here a list of all the men who have 
served as President of the United States under the Constitution,, from 
George Washington to Ronald Reagan, and there are only 39 of them, so 
there is no 40th President.” 

“Ah,” says the teacher, “but Grover Cleveland served two non- 
consecutive terms, one from 1885 to 1889, and the second from 1893 
to 1897. He counts as both the 22nd and 24th President. That is why 
Ronald Reagan is the 39th person to serve as President of the United 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

States, and is, at the same time, the 40th President of the United States.” 

Isn’t that ridiculous? Why should a person counted twice if his terms 
are non-consecutive, and only once if he served two consecutive terms? 
Pure convention! Yet Barbara is marked wrong — just as wrong as if she 
had said the 40th President of the United States is Fidel Castro. 

Therefore, when my friend the English Literature expert tells me 
that in every century, scientists think they have worked out the Universe 
and are cdways wrong, what I want to know is bow wrong are they? Are 
they always wrong to the same degree? Let’s take an example. 

In the early days of civilization, the general feeling was that the Earth 
was flat. 

This was not because people were stupid, or because they were 
intent on believing silly things. They felt it was flat on the basis of sound 
evidence. It was not just a matter of “That’s how it looks,” because the 
Earth does not look flat. It looks chaotically bumpy, with hills, valleys, 
ravines, and so on. 

Of course, there are plains where, over limited areas, the Earth’s 
surface does look fairly flat. One of those plains is in the Tigris- 
Euphrates area where the first historical civilization (one with writing) 
developed, that of the Sumerians. 

Perhaps it was the appearance of the plain that may have persuaded 
the clever Sumerians to accept the generalization that the Earth was flat; 
that if you somehow evened out all the elevations and depressions, you 
would be left with flatness. Contributing to the notion may have been 
the fact that stretches of water (ponds and lakes) looked pretty flat on 
quiet days. 

Another way of looking at it is to ask, what is the “curvature” of 
Earth’s surface? Over a considerable length, how much does the surface 
deviate (on the average) from perfect flatness? The flat Earth theory 
would make it seem that the surface doesn’t deviate from flatness at all, 
that its curvature is 0 to the mile. 

Nowadays, of course, we are taught that the flat-earth theory is 
wrong, that it is all wrong, terribly wrong, absolutely. But it isn’t. The 
curvature of the Earth is nearly 0 to the mile, so that although the 
flat-Earth theory is wrong, it happens to be nearly right. That’s why the 
theory lasted so long. 

There were reasons, to be sure, to find the flat-earth theory unsatis- 
factory; and, about 350 B.C., the Greek philosopher 



Aristotle summarized them. First, certain stars disappeared beyond the 
southern hemisphere as one travelled north and beyond the northern 
hemisphere as one travelled south. Second, the Earth’s shadow on the 
Moon during a lunar eclipse was always the arc of a circle. Third, here 
on Earth itself, ships disappeared beyond the horizon hull first in what- 
ever direction they were travelling. 

All three observations could not be reasonably explained if the 
Earth’s surface were flat, but could be explained by assuming the Earth 
to be a sphere. 

What’s more, Aristotle believed that all solid matter tended to move 
toward a common center, and if solid matter did this, it would end up as 
a sphere. A given volume of matter is, on the average, closer to a com- 
mon center if it is a sphere than if it is any other shape whatever. 

About a century after Aristotle, the Greek philosopher Eratosthenes 
noted that the Sun cast a shadow of different lengths at different latitudes 
(all the shadows would be the same length if the Earth’s surface were 
flat). From the difference in shadow lengths, he calculated the size of the 
Earthly sphere, and it turned out to be 25,000 miles in circumference. 

The curvature of such a sphere is about 0.00001 2 miles to the mile, a 
quantity very close to 0 miles to the mile as you can see, and one not 
easily measured by the techniques at the disposal of the ancients. The 
tiny difference between 0 and 0.000012 accounts for the fact that it 
took so long to pass from the flat Earth to the spherical Earth. 

Mind you, even a tiny difference, such as that between 0 and 
0.0000 1 2 can be extremely important. That difference mounts up. The 
Earth cannot be mapped over large areas with any accuracy at all if the 
difference isn’t taken into account and if the Earth isn’t considered 
spherical rather than a flat surface. Long ocean voyages can’t be under- 
taken with any reasonable way of locating one’s own position in the 
ocean unless the Earth is considered spherical rather than flat. 

Furthermore, the flat Earth presupposes the possibility of an inflnite 
Earth, or of the existence of an “end” to the surface. The spherical 
Earth, however, postulates an Earth that is both endless and yet finite, 
and it is the latter postulate that is consistent with all later findings. 

So although the flat-Earth theory is only slightly wrong and is a credit 
to its inventors, all things considered, it is wrong enough to be dis- 
carded in favor of the spherical-Earth theory. 

And yet is the Earth a sphere? 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

No, it is not a sphere, not in the strict mathematical sense. A sphere 
has certain mathematical properties — for instance, all diameters (that 
is, all straight lines that pass from one point on its surface through the 
center to another point on its vSurface) have the same length. 

That, however, is not true of the Earth. Various diameters of the 
Earth differ in length. 

What gave people the notion the Earth wasn’t a true sphere? To 
begin with, the Sun and Moon have outlines that are perfect circles 
within the limits of measurement in the early days of the telescope. This 
is consistent with the supposition that the Sun and Moon are perfectly 
spherical in shape. 

However, when Jupiter and Saturn were observed by the first tele- 
scopic observers, it became quickly apparent that the outlines of those 
planets were not circles, but distinct ellipses. That meant that Jupiter 
and Saturn were not true spheres. 

Isaac Newton, toward the end of the 17th Century, showed that a 
massive body would form a sphere under the pull of gravitational forces 
(exactly as Aristotle had argued), but only if it were not rotating. If it 
were rotating, a centrifugal effect would be set up which would lift the 
body’s substance against gravity, and this effect would be greater the 
closer to the equator you progressed. The effect would also be greater 
the more rapidly a spherical object rotated, and Jupiter and Saturn 
rotated very rapidly indeed. 

The Earth rotated much more slowly than Jupiter or Saturn so the 
effect should be smaller, but it should still be there. Actual measure- 
ments of the curvature of the Earth were carried out in the 1 8th Cen- 
tury and Newton was proved correct. 

The Earth has an equatorial bulge, in other words. It is flattened at 
the poles. It is an “oblate spheroid’’ rather than a sphere. This means 
that the various diameters of the Earth differ in length. The longest 
diameters are any of those that stretch from one point on the equator to 
an opposite point on the equator. This “equatorial diameter’’ is 12,755 
kilometers (7,927 miles). The shortest diameter is from the north pole 
to the south pole, and this “polar diameter” is 1 2,7 1 1 kilometers ( 7,900 

The difference between the longest and shortest diameters is 44 
kilometers ( 27 miles), and that means that the “oblateness” of the Earth 
(its departure from true sphericity) is 44/12755 or 0.0034. This 
amounts to 1/3 of 1 percent. 



To put it another way, on a flat surface, curvature is 0 miles per mile 
everywhere. On Earth’s spherical surface, curvature is 0.000012 miles 
per mile everywhere (or 8 inches per mile). On Earth’s oblate sphe- 
roidical surface, the curvature varies from 7.973 inches to the mile to 
8.027 inches to the mile. 

The correction in going from spherical to oblate spheroidal is much 
smaller than going from flat to spherical. Therefore, although the notion 
of the Earth as sphere is wrong, strictly speaking, it is not as wrong as 
the notion of the Earth as flat. 

Even the oblate-spheroidal notion of the Earth is wrong, strictly 
speaking. In 1958, when the satellite “Vanguard 1“ was put into orbit 
about the Earth, it was able to measure the local gravitational pull of the 
Earth — and therefore its shape — with unprecedented precision. It 
turned out that the equatorial bulge south of the equator was slightly 
bulgier than the bulge north of the equator, and that the south pole 
sea-level was slightly nearer the center of the Earth than the north pole 
sea- level was. 

There seemed no other way of describing this than by saying the 
Earth was “pear-shaped,” and at once many people decided that the 
Earth was nothing like a sphere but was shaped like a Bartlett pear 
dangling in space. Actually, the pear-like deviation from oblate spheroid 
perfect was a matter of yards rather than miles, and the adjustment of 
curvature was in the millionths of inches per mile. 

In short, my English Lit friend, living in a mental world of absolute 
rights and wrongs may be imagining that because all theories are 
tjurong, the Earth may be thought spherical now, but cubical next cen- 
tury, and a hollow icosahedron the next, and a doughnut-shape the one 

What actually happens is that once scientists get hold of a good 
concept they gradually refine and extend it with greater and greater 
subtlety as their instruments of measurement improve. Theories are not 
so much wrong as incomplete. 

This can be pointed out in many other cases than just the shape of 
the Earth. Even when a new theory seems to represent a revolution, it 
usually arises out of small refinements. If something more than a small 
refinement were needed, then the old theory would never have endured. 

Copernicus switched from an Earth -centered planetary system to a 
Sun-centered one. In doing so, he switched from something that was 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

obvious to something that was apparently ridiculous. However, it was a 
matter of finding better ways of calculating the motion of the planets in 
the sky and, eventually, the geocentric theory was just left behind. It was 
precisely because the old theory gave results that were fairly good by 
the measurement standards of the time that kept it in being so long. 

Again, it is because the geological formations of the Earth change so 
slowly and the living things upon it evolve so slowly that it seemed 
reasonable at first to suppose that there was no change and that Earth 
and life always existed as they did today. If that were so, it made no 
difference whether Earth and life were billions of years old or thou- 
sands. Thousands were easier to grasp. 

But when careful observation showed that Earth and life were 
changing at a rate that was very tiny but not zero, then it became clear 
that Earth and life had to be very old. Modern geology came into being, 
and so did the notion of biological evolution. 

If the rate of change were more rapid, geology and evolution would 
have reached their modern state in ancient times. It is only because the 
difference between the rate of change in a static Universe and an evolu- 
tionary one is that between zero and very nearly zero that the creation- 
ists can continue propagating their folly. 

Again, how about the twp great theories of the twentieth century: 
relativity and quantum mechanics? 

Newton’s theories of motion and gravitation were very close to 
right, and they would have been absolutely right if only the speed of 
light were infinite. However, the speed of light is finite, and that had to 
be taken into account in Einstein’s relativistic equations, which were an 
extension and refinement of Newton’s equations. 

You might say that the difference between infinite and finite is itself 
infinite, so why didn’t Newton’s equations fall to the ground at once? 
Let’s put it another way and ask how long it takes light to travel over a 
distance of a meter. 

If light travelled at infinite speed, it would take light 0 seconds to 
travel a meter. At the speed at which light actually travels, however, it 
takes it 0.0000000033 seconds. It is that difference between 0 and 
0.0000000033 that Einstein corrected for. 

Conceptually, the correction was as important as the the correction 
of Earth’s curvature from 0 to 8 inches per mile was. Speeding sub- 
atomic particles wouldn’t behave the way they do without the correc- 
tion, nor would particle accelerators work the way they do, nor nuclear 



bombs explode, nor the stars shine. Nevertheless, it was a tiny correc- 
tion, and it is no wonder that Newton in his time could not allow for it, 
since he was limited in his observations to speeds and distances over 
which the correction was insignificant. 

Again, where the pre-quantum view of physics fell short was that it 
didn’t allow for the “graininess” of the Universe. All forms of energy had 
been thought to be continuous and to be capable of division into indef- 
initely smaller and smaller quantities. 

This turned out to be not so. Energy comes in quanta, the size of 
which is dependent upon something call Planck’s constant. If Planck’s 
constant were equal to 0 erg-seconds, then energy would be contin- 
uous, and there would be no grain to the Universe. Planck’s constant, 
however, is equal to 0.0000000000000000000000000066 erg-seconds. 
That is indeed a tiny deviation from zero, so tiny that ordinary questions 
of energy in every-day life need not concern themselves with it. When, 
however, you deal with subatomic particles, the graininess is sufficient- 
ly large in comparison to make it impossible to deal with them without 
taking quantum considerations into account. 

Since the refinements in theory grow smaller and smaller, even quite 
ancient theories must have been sufficiently right to allow advances to 
be made, advances that were not wiped out by subsequent refinements. 

The Greeks introduced the notion of latitude and longitude, for 
instance, and made reasonable maps of the Mediterranean basin even 
without taking sphericity into account, and we still use latitude and 
longitude today. 

The Sumerians were probably the first to establish the principle that 
planetary movements in the sky exhibit regularity and can be predicted, 
and they proceeded to work out ways of doing so even though they 
assumed the Earth to be the center of the Universe. Their measurements 
have been enormously refined but the principle remains. 

Newton’s theory of gravitation, while incomplete over vast dis- 
tances and enormous speeds, is perfectly suitable for the Solar system. 
Halley’s Comet appears punctually as Newton’s theory of gravitation 
and laws of motion predict. All of rocketry is based on Newton, and 
“Voyager H” reached Uranus within a second of the predicted time. 
None of these things were outlawed by relativity. 

In the 19th Century, before quantum theory was dreamed of, the 
laws of thermodynamics were established, including the conservation 


Fantasy & Science Fictk>n 

of energy as the first law, and the inevitable increase of entropy as the 
second law. Certain other conservation laws such as those of momen- 
tum, angular momentum, and electric charge were also established. So 
were Maxwell’s laws of electromagnetism. All remained firmly en- 
trenched even after quantum theory came in. 

Naturally, the theories we now have might be considered wrong in 
the simplistic sense of my English Lit correspondent, but in a much 
truer and subtler sense, they need only be considered incomplete. 

For instance, quantum theory has produced something called ’’quan- 
tum weirdness,” which brings into serious question the very nature of 
reality and which produces philosophical conundrums that physicists 
simply can’t seem to agree upon. It may be that we have reached a point 
where the human brain can no longer grasp matters, or it may be that 
quantum theory is incomplete and that once it is properly extended, all 
the “weirdness” will disappear. 

Again, quantum theory and relativity seem to be independent of 
each other, so that while quantum theory makes it seem possible that 
three of the four known interactions can be combined into one mathe- 
matical system, gravitation — the realm of relativity — as yet seems 

If quantum theory and relativity can be combined, a true “unified 
field theory” may become possible. 

If all this is done, however, it would be a still finer refinement that 
would affect the edges of the known — the nature of the big bang and 
the creation of the Universe, the properties at the center of black holes, 
some subtle points about the evolution of galaxies and supernovas, and 
so on. 

Virtually all that we know today, however, would remain untouched 
and when I say I am glad that I live in a century when the Universe is 
essentially understood, I think I am justified. 

Coming next month 

“Face Value” a powerful new SF story by Karen Joy Fowler; 
Glory” a Hollywood fantasy by Ron Goulart; also new stories 
by Gerald Jonas, Bradley Denton, Jane Yolen and others. 

The November issue is on sale October 1. 



In which a Russian bureaucrat, on the Moscow-Leningrad 
overnight express, finds an empty compartment — and en- 
counters a chilling surprise . . . 

The Fellow 




I at pulled well down on his 
balding head against a penetrating 
spring drizzle, coat tightly buttoned 
around his paunchy frame, Pavel Dmi- 
trovich Prokudin paid off his taxi not 
in front of the station but on its west 
side, where one could walk straight 
to the platform without negotiating 
the milling throng around the book- 
ing offices. He had no need to buy a 
ticket; as an official of the state rail- 
way system, he was entitled to a per- 
manent pass, and the secretary of an 
old and influential friend had con- 
firmed a reservation for him on the 
phone. He was in a cheerful mood; 
his business in Moscow — with that 
same friend, Boris Ivanovich Vassi- 
lyev of the ministry — had gone well, 
and as a result he was free of the anx- 
ieties that had plagued him for the 
past couple of months. 

He was a little later than he had 

intended, though; it lacked barely ten 
minutes of 2300, the departure time 
of the Red Arrow, the Moscow-Lenin- 
grad overnight express. 

He looked around for someone to 
carry his bags to the train, and realized 
with abrupt annoyance that the por- 
ters were all busy. Just ahead of where 
the taxi had set him down, two Ikarus 
buses were discharging a full com- 
plement of passengers, chivied along 
by Intourist couriers, while their lug- 
gage was being hastily loaded onto 

Despite the rain that misted his 
glasses, Prokudin knew exactly what 
he was looking at, for he had seen the 
same uncountable times. Here was 
some foreign tour group, or more 
likely a commercial or cultural dele- 
gation, which meant that the Kras- 
naya Strela would be full to capacity. 
He had told Boris’s secretary to insist 

Copyright • 1986 Brunner Fact & Fiction Ltd. 


Fantasy It Science Fiction 

on a compartment to himself, but in 
these circumstances. . . . 

Much put out, he gathered his be- 
longings: suitcase in one hand; in the 
other, and under the other arm, bags 
and packages containing the fruits of 
a brief shopping expedition he had 
been able to make this afternoon. 
There was a present for his wife, of 
course, and another — considerably 
more expensive — for a young lady 
who worked as a script editor at Len- 
film; and even a present for himself, 
in the shape of two bottles of best- 
quality Georgian brandy; these he had 
not had to pay for. Carrying that lot 
was awkward, but he managed. 

The delegation, he saw now, was 
composed of Africans: their faces all 
shades of brown and black, sonae of 
them wearing incongruous raincoats 
over loose pajamalike outfits that 
could offer little protection from the 
chill. How would they have managed 
had they arrived a month or two ago, 
when the western part of the country 
lay in the grip of its worst winter in 
seven years? 

Still, it was spring now; the thaw 
had come, and with it a thaw in his 
own personal affairs. He was eager to 
get home and back to work. 

Striding past the uncertain for- 
eigners, he made his way to the fifth 
carriage. Its provodnitsa, fat and mid- 
dle-aged in her dark uniform jacket 
and trousers, stood beside the door- 
way, engaged in heated conversation 
with the senior Intourist courier. They 

were arguing over flapping sheets of 
paper, no doubt the list of passengers 
assigned to each compartment. Pro- 
kudin interrupted, showing his pass; 
having barely glanced at it, the con- 
ductress waved him by under the 
resentful gaze of the otherwise do- 
cile Africans, who were not merely 
cold but obviously very tired. 

At this end of the corridor was lo- 
cated the boiler from which pas- 
sengers could obtain hot water for 
tea. It had not yet been lighted, but 
half a dozen black men who had man- 
aged to board ahead of their compan- 
ions were clustered hopefully around 
it. He pushed between them and con- 
tinued toward the rear. The compart- 
ment he had specified was next but 
one to the lavatory, the best location; 
the endmost one was liable to be noi- 
sy in the middle of the night. 

Its door was open. He turned to 
enter, and checked. On the left-hand 
bed lay a suitcase, a coat so wet with 
rain it should have been hung up, and 
a pair of gloves. 

The last thing he wanted was to 
spend the night with a complete 
stranger who probably didn’t speak a 
word of Russian, might have peculiar 
personal habits, and could scarcely 
be refused a share of the fine brandy 
with which he planned to have a pri- 
vate celebration on the way home. 

Naturally, if his unexpected fel- 
low traveler had been like the one 
Boris had had wished on him. . . . 
Granted, at his age he should have 

The Fellow Traveler 


known better, but one could scarcely 
blame the guy for taking advantage of 
such an opportunity. Even that plea- 
sant surprise, though, had turned out 
to have drawbacks in the long run: a 
fact for which he, Prokudin, felt pro- 
foundly grateful. 

Fuming, he set down his burdens 
on the other bed and marched back 
to have a word with the conductress. 
There was always a chance she could 
put the African elsewhere. 

But she was still outside, and the 
argument was getting even louder. 
Apparently, owing to some bureau- 
cratic mix-up, two of the couriers 
were going to have to be moved to a 
“hard” section of the train, where 
four passengers instead of two shared 
each compartment. It looked as 
though he was condemned to put up 
with things as they were. 

By chance, though, as he turned 
back past the provodnitsa’s tiny of- 
fice opposite the water heater, his 
eye was caught by a form lying on the 
shelf that serv'ed for a desk. It was a 
standard compartment-assignment 
list, with two names entered against 
each number except the last. That 
space, he realized, did not contain 
names, but a comment scrawled in 
black pencil. The writing was atro- 
cious, but he managed to decipher it. 
It said, “Door catch jammed. Pre- 
viously reported.” 

Hmm! So the end compartment 
was in fact vacant! Well, it was worth 
a try. . . . 

He hurried along the corridor 
again. From long experience he knew 
that, although the door catches did 
sometimes stick, they could usually 
be freed by a really determined at- 
tack. Sometimes, however, people 
were too afraid of damaging state 
property to use the necessary amount 
of force. 

Grasping the handle of the sliding 
door, he braced one foot against the 
edge of the frame and gave a mighty 

The door opened with no resist- 
ance whatsoever. 

So unexpectedly did it yield that 
he nearly lost his balance. Uttering an 
oath, minded to haul the conductress 
over the coals for inefficiency, he 
turned around, and saw that the last 
of the Africans was being urged 
aboard, it being now 2259. 

On reflection, it would be better 
to file a report on arrival than risk the 
damned woman trying to order him 
back to his assigned bed. There was 
nothing wrong with the empty com- 
partment, except that — he sniffed 
— the air was rather stale. The beds 
were both made up; the bedding 
might be a little damp, perhaps, but 
after a few slugs of brandy he wouldn’t 
care about trifles like that. . . . 

Any moment the African might re- 
turn to the adjacent compartment. If 
he saw a Russian moving out, he might 
lodge a complaint about racial preju- 
dice. Prokudin had no very high opin- 
ion of black people, but it was politic 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

to keep up a good front. For all he 
knew, his unwelcome companion 
might be a cabinet minister. 

Hastily he transferred his belong- 
ings and pulled the door to exactly as 
the train jarred into motion. 

Having hung up his hat, coat, jacket 
and tie, and stowed his glasses in 
their pocket case, he extracted towel 
and toilet bag from his suitcase and 
made for the adjacent washroom. It 
was not in the best of repair, but it 
looked as though he had first call on 
it; there were no water splashes on 
the floor, and there was even a de- 
cent supply of toilet paper. Just in 
case it ran out, he tucked a few sheets 
into his trouser pocket. 

Refreshed, he returned to his com- 
partment. To be on the safe side, he 
opened and closed the door a couple 
of times, finding that it moved as free- 
ly as before. Sitting down with both 
pillows behind him, he opened a pack 
of Bogatyr brand papirosi, old-style 
cigarettes with a built-in holder, 
which he smoked in the traditional 
manner, bending the cardboard tube 
halfway along and holding it between 
first and second fingers with his thumb 
pushing the end upward like a minia- 
ture pipe. Having lit the first, he took 
three slow, relishing mouthfuls of the 

“Well, this is better, I must say?“ 
he muttered to the air as the alcohol- 
ic warmth permeated his body. What 
could that fool of a provodnitsa be 
up to, claiming that the compartment 

door was stuck? Was there perhaps 
something in here that ought not to 
be — something she was delivering 
for a friend, or for a price; for exam 
pie, goods that had eluded import 
duty? If there were . . . ! 

The idea appealed to him, and he 
made a cursory search, but there was 
no sign of anything unusual. 

He resumed his place, taking an- 
other swig of brandy and lighting 
another cigarette. More likely, come 
to think of it, the compartment had 
— past tense — held something illicit. 
Everyone knew that despite the efforts 
of the customs service, a certain 
amount of smuggling took place be- 
tween Leningrad and, especially, Fin- 
nish ports, and the best prices were 
to be obtained in Moscow. Suppose 
the woman had pretended the door 
was faulty on a previous, southbound 
trip, and then had to maintain the 
pretense when nobody turned up to 
fit a new catch. Come to think of it 
—he blinked and glanced around — 
that wasn’t so surprising. This car- 
riage was no longer worth repairing; 
it was old stock, as was evidenced by 
the shabby condition of the lavatory. 
It, and those like it, were due to be 
taken out of service anytime now and 
dismissed to the scrapyard. Who 
should know better than himself, in 
charge of procurement and spares for 
this whole sector of the railway? 

The more he thought about it, and 
the more brandy he put away, the 
more convinced he became that his 

The Fellow Traveler 


inspired guess must be correct. Maybe 
he should call for an official inquiry. 
Fwo days ago the mere mention of 
those words would have sent a shiver 
of apprehension down his spine, for 
he: himself had been in line to face 
one, but that little problem had been 
taken care of by his call on Vassilyev. 
Obviously that latter had been hop- 
ing that the last had been heard about 
a recent, regrettable episode during, 
as it so happened, a night journey on 
this very train, particularly since the 
other party involved was no longer in 
a position to discuss the matter. 
Therefore he had been greatly put 
out by what Prokudin had to say. 
However, he owed his visitor several 
favors, and had perforce consented 
to make sure that the inquiry — which 
concerned certain spare parts that 
were not as new as the accompanying 
documents claimed, but had seen 
service before and merely been re- 
furbished — would concentrate its 
attention on the lower levels of the 
railway hierarchy. Two or three obli- 
gatory scapegoats would be found, 
but the reputation of Pavel Dmitro- 
vich Prokudin would remain untar- 
nished, as befitted a Party member of 
nearly thirty years' standing. 

Nonetheless, he could certainly 
do with something more positive to 
his credit, even if only as a diversion- 
ary maneuver, and finding a ticketless 
passenger concerned with the con- 
cealment of illegal goods in a sup- 
posedly inaccessible sleeping com- 

partment. . . . Yes, something of that 
kind would do very' nicely. And if a 
silly, fat old woman got into trouble, 
so what? It was no skin off his nose, 
was it? 

Shortly, however, all such thoughts 
were driven away by others far more 
enjoyable. What a good idea it had 
been to make sure that the reserva- 
tion lists relating to the night of Bo- 
ris’s unfortunate escapade “got lost ”! 
Naturally, as he had been at pains to 
make clear in Moscow, at the time he 
had been thinking solely in terms of 
doing a good turn to an old pal who 
risked getting into hot water. Of 
course, the possibility had to be borne 
in mind that they might just conceiv- 
ably turn up again. . . . 

But they wouldn’t. Not so long as 
Boris kept his part of the bargain. 

Chuckling at his own ingenuity, 
Prokudin lit another cigarette and 
swigged more brandy. After that the 
bottle was only two-thirds full. 

Lights had been flashing past the 
window as the train rolled through 
the city’s northern suburbs. By now, 
however, it had entered open coun- 
try, and there was nothing to be seen 
but darkness. The snow that had lain 
so long and deep during the winter 
had completely melted. Spring was 
definitely here at last. That, too, 
should help to distract people from 
thoughts of locomotives breaking 
down at minus twenty degrees. 

He rose, swaying a little — and 
not only because of the train’s mo- 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

tion — and drew the curtains tight. 
He considered taking off his shoes 
and trousers and getting under the 
covers, but he wasn’t feeling cold. 
Besides, there was still a lot of brandy 
left. That had been a very welcome 
surprise. Under the new dispensation 
it was becoming harder and harder to 
find. But Boris shared his fondness 
for it and had generously passed on 
part of the latest consignment he had 
received from Tbilisi — unofficially. 

By the time the level had reduced 
to half, he was drowsy. Also he was 
finding it hard to replace the stopper. 
Treading out his last cigarette, he 
drew the blanket over him and 
switched off the light. 

Within minutes, lulled by the slight 
rocking of the train, Pavel Dmitro- 
vich Prokudin was fast asleep. 


I ith a start, he realized he could 
no longer hear the rumble of the 
wheels on the track. The train was at 
a standstill. Moreover he was cold — 
bitterly, numbingly cold. 

He forced his eyes open. He was 
still propped up on the two pillows, 
so he was gazing straight at the win- 
dow on the far side. To his astonish- 
ment, it was daylight — or at any rate 
it wasn’t night anymore. Under gleam- 
ing steel-gray clouds, he saw white- 
ness: the silhouettes of firs and birch 
trees laden to the uttermost with 

But where could this be? It ought 

to be spring! It was spring! Anyway, 
who could have opened the curtains? 
Who had entered while he was as- 
leep? Had he been robbed? He tried 
to swing his feet to the floor and 
stand up, but it was as though he 
were paralyzed, or rather, unbelieva- 
bly weak — as though the effort of 
raising his eyelids had drained him of 
his entire remaining strength. He 
could not even reach for the brandy 

Summoning all his force, he willed 
his head to turn, and managed to roll 
it far enough to look toward the oth- 
er bed. 

There was someone in it. Under 
not only a blanket, but a big, heavy 
cloth coat. Lying perfectly still. Even 
without his glasses, he could tell it 
was a woman, for tresses of long, dark 
hair trailed across her pillow. 

Well, in that case— 

He canceled the idea as soon as it 
entered his mind. Just such a foolish 
impulse was what had enabled him to 
put the necessary pressure on Boris. 
No! The important thing was, she had 
no business being in his compart- 
ment! Furious, he tried to shout at 
her, tell her to get out — 

He produced not a sound, not ev- 
en a whisper, but as if reading his 
thoughts, she moved. He saw her face 
with incredible clarity; at any dis- 
tance over half a meter, he normally 
needed the help of his spectacles. She 
was young, slender and pretty, but as 
pale as the snow outside (how could 

The Fellow Traveler 


there be snow in such monstrous 
quantities, as though it were still 
February?), and her expression was 
of indescribable despair. 

Rising very stiffly, as though every 
movement was as much of an effort 
for her as for him, she leaned on the 
doorframe and tugged at the handle. 
The sliding panel did not budge. In a 
sudden access of frustration, she be- 
gan to hammer at it with small gloved 
fists, and abruptly Prokudin realized 
that her mouth was open. She looked 
as though she was screaming for help. 

And yet the silence was absolute. 
He could not hear her cries; he had 
not heard her blows on the wood. 

At last, shivering, her face twisted 
with sobs, she returned to the shelter 
of the bed, and once again lay motion- 

‘‘Last trip for this lot, eh, Irina?*' 
the provodnitsa said to her colleague 
from the next carriage, who had come 
in the small hours to share a snack of 
tea, black bread, and sausage. 

“Yes, Olga, and it*s about time. 
The new ones are marvelous, aren’t 
they? As modern as an airplane, if not 
as fast.” Irina chuckled at her own 
joke despite having made it a dozen 
times before. She added in a more se- 
rious tone, “I don’t suppose you’re 
sorry to see the back of this old thing, 
are you?’’ 

“Not after being snowed up in it!’’ 
Olga confirmed with emphasis. “The 
breakdown wasn’t so bad — 1 mean. 

it was the middle of February and the 
worst winter for seven years, so one’s 
resigned to that kind of thing occa- 
sionally. But when the snowplow 
broke down as well, and the drifts 
were piling up nearly to the win- 
dows, and the heating failed Even 

the water heater had gone out. I can’t 
tell you how glad we were when they 
managed to clear the nearest road 
and dig a path for us. The sound of 
those trucks revving their engines — 
oh, it was like the music of angels! 
How lucky you were to be on leave! 
And then, of course, after that it took 
two days to free the train.’’ 

This, too, had been said a dozen 
times, but Irina still nodded sympa- 
thetically. And said after a pause, “Are 
you still having trouble with the door 
of that compartment?’’ 

Olga sighed, sipping her tea. “I 
gave up on it,’’ she said. “I told you 1 
put in a fault report, but nobody took 
any notice ~ and why should they? 
Why repair something that’s only a 
few weeks away from being junked? 
And it’s not my business to fix that 
kind of thing, is it? I followed the 
proper procedure; and if nobody paid 
attention, it isn’t up to me to carry 
the can. I had quite a row with the 
chief courier of this African trade 
delegation, you know.’’ 

“Yes, I noticed. What happened?’’ 

“Well, they’d booked two of the 
Intourist people in the end compart- 
ment, in spite of my having reported 
the jammed door. They had to be 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

moved from soft to hard because 
there wasn’t room anywhere else. He 
went on at me as though I were to 
blame, but 1 had my copy of the fault 
report, and I stood my ground. He 
had to give up eventually, of course, 
or be held responsible for delaying 
the train.” 

Irina tsk-tsked and refilled the tea- 
cups. She said after a pause, “Every 
time 1 think of that poor girl. . . .” 

“How do you suppose 1 feel? I’m 
lucky to have kept my job, aren’t I? 
But 1 pointed out that it was none of 
my doing if she chose to use a name 
like Sasha that could just as well be a 
man’s, and what’s more, with a for- 
eign surname that doesn’t have a 
proper feminine ending! Why didn’t 
she call herself Alexandra, in full, so 
there wouldn’t have been any 

“Quite right,” Irina concurred. 
“What’s more, she should have mar- 
ried a nice Russian boy instead of — 
what did they say her husband was? 
Swedish? Finnish?” 

“One or the other,” Olga said 
dismissively. “Still, you can’t help 
feeling sorry for him, can you?” 

“No, I suppose not. They hadn’t 
even had a chance to live together 
since they got married, had they? 
You’re right: it must have been dread- 
ful for him.” 

“He wasn’t the only one,” Olga 
said tartly, picking up the thread of 
her discourse. “She should have com- 
plained to me! / know what men are 

like! I’d have sorted the nasty fellow 
out, no matter who he was! But I 
suppose she was too scared of being 
held up by some sort of police pro- 
ceedings. So when she found the end 
compartment was vacant, she just 
moved in without reporting what 
she’d done. Oh, she brought trouble 
on her own head. My list didn’t show 
anyone in that compartment — why 
should it occur to me to check it 
when all the ones I knew to be occu- 
pied were definitely empty? I mean, 
you rely on normal procedure even 
when you’re stuck in a snowdrift wait- 
ing for rescue! And I did my duty! I 
was the last to leave the carriage, like 
a captain leaving his ship! Far as I 
knew, anyway!” 

“Or course! But how she managed 
to sleep through all the commotion, 
that’s what I’d like to know. They said 
they didn’t find any sedative or sleep- 
ing pills.” 

“Ah, that did come out. I thought 
I’d already told you. She told a friend 
she could never sleep on a train, so 
this other girl gave her some tablets 
she’d been prescribed, just wrapped 
in a bit of paper. She got an almighty 
ticking-off, by the way! She had no 
business passing on any sort of medi- 
cine without a doctor’s advice. And it 
was strong stuff, too, quite enough to 
knock out a little slip of a thing like 
that for twice as long as she ex- 

“How awful it must have been 
for her when she woke up at twenty 

The FcNow Traveler 


below zero, and found the train was 

‘‘Yes. . . . Well, let’s not think 
about it. It’s over, and it can’t be 
helped. But I can’t avoid saying, you 
know, how much I’d like to get my 
hands on whoever was responsible 
for first the engine breaking down, 
and then the snowplow. And it was 
just a small part in each case — the 
sort of thing you’d never imagine 
could bring a whole huge machine to 
a dead stop.” 

‘‘For all anyone can tell,” said Iri- 
na sagely, “it could have been the 
same person who sent us those door 
catches that jam so easily. You know, 
when I was learning English, they 
taught us a saying about ‘spoiling the 
ship for a kopeck’s worth of tar.’ 
Things never change, not really. . . . 
Well, time’s a-wasting. I’ll see you at 
the terminus.” 

And she went back to her own 
carriage, leaving Olga to brood anew 
over the tragedy. 

he train was rolling again. With a 
start of relief, Prokudin jolted awake. 
His mouth was dry, his belly sour, and 
he had a splitting headache. But the 
terrible paralysis had left him. So it 
had only been a nightmare after all! 

What a nightmare, though! He had 
never had a worse one! 

With trembling fingers, he opened 
the brandy and took a gulp. As he was 
replacing the stopper, it dawned on 

him that the train was — yes — mov- 
ing, but it was moving in the wrong 


Fumbling for his glasses, he rushed 
to the window and dragged the cur- 
tains apart. There was morning mist 
outside, but thinning — and at least 
there was no sign of snow. 

The view that met his gaze was 
familiar: sheds and workshops along- 
side one of the tracks running south 
from the Leningrad terminus. He 
cursed roundly. What had happened 
was instantly obvious: the stupid bitch 
of a provodnitsa hadn’t bothered to 
wake him on arrival, and this carriage 
was being shunted to a siding. He 
could clearly hear the familiar racket 
of a shunting engine, so different 
from a long-haul locomotive. 

That settled it! He was going to 
report her, whether or not she really 
was using a compartment with a sup- 
posedly jam(ned door to convey illic- 
it goods. It was no more than she 

The fact that according to her 
passenger list, this compartment was 
supposed to be empty, so there would 
have been no point in banging at the 
door to rouse its occupants, made in 
his view absolutely no difference. It 
was a disgraceful way to treat a sen- 
ior railway official! 

Worst of all: news of this mishap 
was bound to leak out, and he could 
just imagine how it would delight his 
colleagues — among whom he was 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

not entirely popular, what with his 
car, his larger-than-average apartment, 
his dacha, and his access to the Beri- 
ozka hard-currenc>' shops, the fruit of 
years of such ingenious shifts as that 
little matter of entering recycled spare 
parts as though they were brand-new. 

And to think that yesterday he had 
been in such high spirits! 

He dragged on his jacket, coat, 
and hat, shut his suitcase, and reached 
for the handle of the door. 

It was stuck. 

He tugged until his arms ached. 
Then he battered on the wood and 
shouted at the top of his voice. Cur- 
iously, he seemed not to be making 
the proper amount of noise. The im- 
pact of his banging was faint, as though 
muffled by distance; so, incredibly, 
was the sound of his own voice. 

Bewildered, he strode to the win- 
dow. But by this time the carriage 
had reached its next-to-final destina- 
tion. It stood alongside another, iden- 
tical to it, completely empty. He could 
clearly make out that the beds had 
been stripped. 

Furious, he sank down on his own 
bed again. Well, sooner or later some- 
one would come down this carriage, 
too, collecting sheets and blankets 
and pillows. When they did, he wasn’t 
half going to give them a piece of his 

For want of anything else — some- 
how he had smoked his entire packet 
of papirosi — he drank some more 

brandy, mentally rehearsing the 
tongue-lashing he was going to ad- 
minister when he caught up with that 

At last he heard footsteps coming 
along the corridor, accompanied by 
cheerful female voices. He resumed 
his hammering on the door, and 
shouted as loudly as he could. 

His fists made no more noise than 
if they had been striking a cushion, 
and his shouts were softer than a waft 
of summer breeze. 

One of the women tried the com- 
partment door, and his heart leapt 
with excitement. But it failed to op- 
en, and someone called, “Don’t bother 
with the end one! The catch is jammed 
■— the provodnitsa left a note about 
it stuck to the door of her office.’’ 

“Right! ” 

And they were gone. 

Incredulous, more than a little 
frightened, Prokudin looked at his 
brandy bottle. There was still quite a 
lot left in it — but all of sudden he 
was crazy with impatience, and any- 
way he had another bottle. If he 
couldn’t get out by the door, there 
was always the window! 

He spun around and hurled the 
boule at the largest pane. The bottle 
smashed. The window stayed intact. 

But through it, all of a sudden, he 
seemed to see once more that bleak 
midwinter landscape, this time partly 
obscured by a snowdrift that had ris- 
en halfway up the glass. He seemed to 
be gripped by the same biting chill; he 

The Fellow Traveler 


sensed, rather than saw, another pres- 
ence here in the compartment, and 
knew tht his fellow traveler was see- 
ing, feeling, suffering the same: the 
cold, the fear, the dawning certainty 
of being trapped. . . . 

Abruptly he realized whose that 
presence was. 

Terrified, he seized the remaining 
bottle and drank from it as though it 
held plain water. 

EAj week elapsed before the car- 
riage made its last journey of all, to 
the scrapyard where it was to be 
broken up. Ahead of the team with 
cutting torches who came to attack 
its metal frame went husky young 
men with screwdrivers, spanners, 
hammers, and crowbars, reclaiming 
everything that might be reusable by 
somebody: coat hooks, lamps and 
bulbs, wooden paneling, hinges, cur- 
tain rods. . . . 

Reaching the last compartment, a 
nineteen-year-old boy called Igor dis- 
covered that the door was stuck. He 
took a crowbar to it. When the catch 
gave way, he found a swarm of buz- 
zing flies, and also . . . what they were 
feeding on. 

“Comrade foreman!” he called in 
a weak voice, as soon as he had mas- 
tered the urge to bring up his break- 

“What is it?” the foreman said 
with a sigh, putting by his list of items 
to be reclaimed. And then: “Oh!” 

He crossed himself by sheer re- 
flex; then, recovering, went in. 

“I saw worse than this when 1 was 
younger than you, during the Great 
Patriotic War!” he muttered. “Had 
quite a party here, didn't he — all by 
himself?” His heavy boots were 
crunching broken glass. “Looks as if 
he’d already finished one bottle be- 
fore he got started on the second” — 
which lay empty in half-rotted hands. 

“Let’s find out who he was,” he 
went on, pulling back the coat and 
jacket and searching for an inside 
pocket. He retrieved a wallet, slimy 
with corruption; he wiped it fasti- 
diously on the coat’s lapels before 
opening it. 

And then he murmured, “Hmm! 
So that’s what became of the dirty 
bastard! Everyone’s been saying that 
he must have fled abroad so as not to 
have to face the music.” 

Igor, in the doorway, ventured, 
“You know who he is — I mean, 

The answer came in an impressive 
tone: “Pavel Dmitrovich Prokudin!” 

Igor looked blank. 

“Hah!” — with contempt. “It’s 
plain you haven’t been in your trade 
long! I thought everybody knew about 
Prokudin! He specialized in the sort 
of thing you’re doing right now, ex- 
cept he wasn’t doing it honestly and 

“What do you mean?” Igor had so 
far recovered his self-possession as to 
advance a pace or two, his horrified 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

but fascinated gaze fixed on the 
corpse’s bloated, decaying face. Flies 
had found the eyes and nostrils, and 
the open mouth, especially attractive. 

“He fixed the paperwork to make 
it look as though used parts had been 
delivered new from the factory. I 
don’t suppose that was the only trick 
he got up to, but it was probably the 
one that got him all sorts of things he 
didn’t deserve.’’ 

Realization dawned. 

“Oh! Was he the guy they said was 
likely to be investigated?” 

“That’s right.” 

“Because he was being — well, 

“Oh, not just that” — with a dis- 
missive gesture. “Remember the time 
the Krasnaya Strela got stuck because 

the loco broke down, and then the 
snowplow broke down as well while 
it was clearing the way for a replace- 
ment engine? Fine state of affairs! 
One of our crack trains stranded in 
the middle of nowhere! Heads were 
bound to roll for letting that happen!” 

Igor bridled a little. “Of course I 
remember! That was only two or three 
months ago. And didn’t someone get 
left behind when they had to evacu- 
ate the passengers by bus?” 

“Bus?” The foreman gave a sour 
grin. “They couldn’t get buses through 
to it. They had to call out army trucks. 
But — yes, that was the worst part of 
the scandal hanging over this son of a 
bitch. Some girl or other who’d mar- 
ried a Finn had finally got permission 
to join him, and she was on her way, 

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The Fellow Traveler 


only she'd taken a sedative, and slept 
right through the clearance of the 

‘‘You mean nobody knew she was 
on board?” Igor burst out. 

‘‘The way I heard it, she moved her- 
self into an empty compartment be- 
cause by mistake she’d been put in 
with a man. Presumably he was making 
a nuisance of himself, only she didn’t 
dare file a complaint for fear of being 
kept away from her husband even long- 
er. Beside, rumor has it that the guy in 
question was a crony of Prokudin’s. 
But I don’t know for sure. Who does? 
You don’t read authoritative accounts 
of this kind of thing in Trud, do you? 
What I do know is the reason for the 
two breakdowns; I had it straight from 

a pal of mine in locomotive mainte- 
nance. Both the engine and the snow- 
plow had been fitted with used parts 
that Prokudin told the inventory clerks 
to list as new ones.” 

Igor looked properly shocked. 

‘‘How on earth did he get away 
with it?” 

‘‘When you’ve spent thirty years 
cultivating friends in high places, and 
maybe sometimes keeping quiet about 
matters they would rather not have 
noised abroad, you can get away with 
quite a lot, or so I’m told. At all 
events,” the foreman concluded, “he 
finally seems to have got his comup- 
pance. I wonder how. . . . Never 
mind. We’d better go and phone for 
the militsiyay 

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Fantasy & Science Fiction 

Nancy Springer wrote Amends: A Tale of the Sun Kings** May 
1983) Her new story is a compelling fantasy about a stable boy, 
an eerie, silent boy who made not a sound until one day when 
he spoke a few words, and the terror began . . . 

The Box; Who 
Plaited Manes 




■ he boy who plaited the manes 
of horses came, fittingly enough, on 
the day of the Midsummer Hunt: when 
he was needed worst, though Wald 
the head groom did not yet know it. 
The stable was in a muted frenzy of 
work, as it had been since long be- 
fore dawn, every groom and appren- 
tice vehemently polishing. The lord’s 
behest was that all the horses in his 
stable should be brushed for two 
hours every morning to keep the fine 
shine and bloom on their flanks, and 
this morning could be no different. 
Then there was also all the gear to be 
tended to. Though old Lord Robley of 
Auberon was a petty manor lord, with 
only some hundred of horses and less 
than half the number of grooms to 
show for a lifetime’s striving, his low- 
ly status made him all the more keen 
to present himself and his retinue 
grandly before the more powerful 

The Boy Who Plaited Manes 

lords who would assemble for the 
Hunt. Himself and his retinue and his 
lovely young wife. 

Therefore it was an eerie thing 
when the boy walked up the long 
stable aisle past men possessed with 
work, men so frantic they took no no- 
tice at all of the stranger, up the aisle 
brick-paved in chevron style until he 
came to the stall where the lady’s 
milk-white palfrey stood covered 
withers to croup with a fitted sheet 
tied on to keep the beast clean, and 
the boy swung open the heavy stall 
door and walked in without fear, as if 
he belonged there, and went up to 
the palfrey to plait its mane. 

He was an eerie boy, so thin that 
he seemed deformed, and of an age 
difficult to guess because of his thin- 
ness. He might have been ten, or 
he might have been seventeen with 
something wrong about him that 


made him beardless and narrow- 
shouldered and thin. His eyes seemed 
too gathered for a ten-year-old, gray- 
green and calm yet feral, like wood- 
land. His hair, dark and shaggy, 
seemed to bulk large above his thin, 
thin face. 

The palfrey’s hair was far better 
cared for than his. Its silky mane, 
coddled for length, hung down bel- 
ow its curved neck, and its tail was 
bundled into a wrapping, to be let 
down at the last moment before the 
lady rose, when it would trail on the 
ground and float like a white bridal 
train. The boy did not yet touch the 
tail, but his thin fingers flew to work 
on the palfrey’s mane. 

Wald the head groom, passing 
nearly at a run to see to the saddling 
of the lord’s hotblooded hunter, stop- 
ped in his tracks and stared. And to 
be sure it was not that he had never 
seen plaiting before. He himself had 
probably braided a thousand horses’ 
manes, and he knew what a time it 
took to put even a row of small 
looped braids along a horse’s crest, 
and how hard it was to get them 
even, and how horsehair seems like a 
demon with a mind of its own. He 
frankly gawked, and other grooms 
stood beside him and did likewise, 
until more onlookers stood gathered 
outside the palfrey’s stall than could 
rightly see, and those in the back de- 
manded to know what was happen- 
ing, and those in the front seemed 
not to hear them, but stood as if in a 

trance, watching the boy’s thin, swift 

For the boy’s fingers moved more 
quickly and deftly than seemed hu- 
man, than seemed possible, each hand 
by itself combing and plaiting a long, 
slender braid in one smooth move- 
ment, as if he no more than stroked 
the braid out of the mane. That itself 
would have been wonder enough, as 
when a groom is so apt that he can 
curry with one hand and follow after 
with the brush in the other, and have 
a horse done in half the time. A shin- 
ing braid forming out of each hand 
every minute, wonder enough — but 
that was the least of it. The boy in- 
terwove them as he worked, so that 
they flowed into each other in a net- 
work, making of the mane a delicate 
shawl, a veil, that draped the palfrey’s 
fine neck. The ends of the braids 
formed a silky hem curving down to a 
point at the shoulder, and at the 
point the boy spiraled the remaining 
mane into an uncanny horsehair flow- 
er. And all the time, though it was not 
tied and was by no means a cold- 
blooded beast, the palfrey had not 
moved, standing still as stone. 

Then Wald the head groom felt 
fear prickling at the back of his aston- 
ishment. The boy had carried each 
plait down to the last three hairs. Yet 
he had fastened nothing with thread 
or ribbon, but merely pressed the 
ends between two fingers, and the 
braids stayed as he had placed them. 
Nor did the braids ever seem to fall 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

loose as he was working, or hairs fly 
out at random, but all lay smooth as 
white silk, shimmering. The boy, or 
whatever he was, stood still with his 
hands at his sides, admiring his work. 

Uncanny. Still, the lord and lady 
would be well pleased. . . . Wald 
jerked himself out of amazement and 
moved quickly. “Get back to your 
work, you fellows!” he roared at the 
grooms, and then he strode into the 

“Who are you?” he demanded. 
“What do you mean coming in here 
like this?” It was best, in a lord’s 
household, never to let anyone know 
you were obliged to them. 

The boy looked at him silently, 
turning his head in the alert yet indif- 
ferent way of a cat. 

“I have asked you a question! What 
is your name?” 

The boy did not speak, or even 
move his lips. Then or thereafter, as 
long as he worked in that stable, he 
never made any sound. 

His stolid manner annoyed Wald. 
But though the master groom could 
not yet know that the boy was a mute, 
he saw something odd in his face. A 
halfwit, perhaps. He wanted to strike 
the boy, but even worse he wanted 
the praise of the lord and lady, so he 
turned abruptly and snatched the 
wrapping off the palfrey’s tail, letting 
the cloud of white hair float down to 
the clean straw of the stall. “Do some- 
thing with that,” he snapped. 

A sweet, intense glow came into 

the boy’s eyes as he regarded his task. 
With his fingers he combed the hair 
smooth, and then he started a row of 
small braids above the bone. 

Most of the tail he left loose and 
flowing, with just a cluster of braids 
at the top, a few of them swinging 
halfway to the ground. And young 
Lady Aelynn gasped with pleasure 
when she saw them, and with won- 
der at the mane, even though she was 
a lord’s daughter bom and not unac- 
customed to finery. 

It did not mattef, that day, that 
Lord Robley’s saddle had not been 
polished to a sufficient shine. He was 
well pleased with his grooms. Nor 
did it matter that his hawks flew 
poorly, his hounds were unruly and 
his clumsy hunter stumbled and cut 
its knees. Lords and ladies looked 
again and again at his young wife on 
her white palfrey, its tail trailing and 
shimmering like her blue silk gown, 
the delicate openwork of its mane as 
dainty as the lace kerchief tucked be- 
tween her breasts or her slender 
gloved hand that held the caparis- 
oned reins. Every hair of her mount 
was as artfully placed as her own 
honey-gold hair looped in gold- 
beaded curls atop her fair young head. 
Lord Robley knew himself to be the 
envy of everyone who saw him for the 
sake of his lovely wife and the show- 
ing she made on her white mount 
with the plaited mane. 

And when the boy who plaited 
manes took his place among the lord’s 

The Boy Who Plaited Manes 


other servants in the kitchen line for 
the evening meal, no one gainsaid 

Lord Robley was a hard old man, 
his old body hard and hale, his spirit 
hard. It took him less than a day to 
pass from being well pleased to being 
greedy for more: no longer was it 
enough that the lady’s palfrey should 
go forth in unadorned braids. He sent 
a servant to Wald with silk ribbons in 
the Auberon colors, dark blue and 
crimson, and commanded that they 
should be plaited into the palfrey’s 
mane and tail. This the stranger boy 
did with ease when Wald ordered 
him to, and he used the ribbon ends 
to tie tiny bows and love knots and 
leave a few shimmering tendrils bob- 
bing in the forelock. Lady Aelynn was 

Within a few days Lord Robley 
had sent to the stable thread of silver 
and of gold, strings of small pearls, 
tassels, pendant jewels, and fresh-cut 
flowers of every sort. All of these 
things the boy who plaited manes 
used with ease to dress the lady’s pal- 
frey when he was bid. Lady Aelynn 
went forth to the next hunt with tiny 
bells, of silver and gold chiming at the 
tip of each of her mount’s dainty 
ribbon-decked braids, and eyes turned 
her way wherever she rode. Nor did 
the boy ever seem to arrange the 
mane and tail and forelock twice in 
the same way, but whatever way he 
chose to plait and weave and dress it 

seemed the most perfect and poig- 
nant and heartachingly beautiful way 
a horse had ever been arrayed. Once 
he did the palfrey’s entire mane in 
one great, thick braid along the crest, 
gathering in the hairs as he went, 
so that the neck seemed to arch as 
mightily as a destrier’s, and he made 
the braid drip thick with flowers, 
roses and great lilies and spires of 
larkspur trailing down, so that the 
horse seemed to go with a mane of 
flowers. But another time he would 
leave the mane loose and floating, 
with just a few braids shimmering 
down behind the ears or in the fore- 
lock, perhaps, and this also seemed 
perfect and poignant and the only 
way a horse should be adorned. 

Nor was it sufficient, any longer, 
that merely the lady’s milk-white pal- 
frey should go forth in braids. Lord 
Robley commanded that his hot- 
blooded hunter also should have his 
mane done up in stubby ribboned 
braids and rosettes in the Auberon 
colors, and the horses of his retinue 
likewise, though with lesser rosettes. 
And should his wife choose to go out 
riding with her noble guests, all their 
mounts were to be prepared like 
hers, though in lesser degree. 

All these orders Wald passed on 
to the boy who plaited manes, and 
the youngster readily did as he was 
bid, working sometimes from before 
dawn until long after dark, and never 
seeming to want more than what 
food he could eat while standing in 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

the kitchen. He slept in the hay and 
straw of the loft and did not use even 
a horseblanket for covering until one 
of the grooms threw one on him. Nor 
did he ask for clothing, but Wald, 
ashamed of the boy’s shabbiness, pro- 
vided him with the clothing due to a 
servant. The master groom said noth- 
ing to him of a servant’s pay. The boy 
seemed content without it. Prob- 
ably he would have been content 
without the clothing as well. Though 
in fact it was hard to tell what he was 
thinking or feeling, for he never spoke 
and his thin face seldom moved. 

No one knew his name, the boy 
who plaited manes. Though many of 
the grooms were curious and made 
inquiries, no one could tell who he 
was or where he had come from. Or 
even what he was, Wald thought sour- 
ly. No way to tell if the young snip 
was a halfwit or a bastard or what, if 
he would not talk. No way to tell 
what sort of a young warlock he 
might be, that the horses never moved 
under his hands, even the hotblooded 
hunter standing like a stump for him. 
Scrawny brat. He could hear well 
enough; why would he not talk? 

It did not make Wald like the 
strange boy, that he did at once what- 
ever he was told and worked so hard 
and so silently. In particular he did 
not like the boy for doing the work 
for which Wald reaped the lord’s 
praise; Wald disliked anyone to whom 
he was obliged. Nor did he like the 
way the boy had arrived, as if blown 

in on a gust of wind, and so thin that 
it nearly seemed possible. Nor did he 
like the thought that any day the boy 
might leave in like wise. And even 
disliking that thought, Wald could 
not bring himself to give the boy the 
few coppers a week which were his 
due, for he disliked the boy more. 
Wald believed there was something 
wrongheaded, nearly evil, about the 
boy. His face seemed wrong, so very 
thin, with the set mouth and the eyes 
both wild and quiet, burning like a 
steady candle flame. 

Summer turned into autumn, and 
many gusts of wind blew, but the boy 
who plaited manes seemed content 
to stay, and if he knew of Wald’s dis- 
like he did not show it. In fact he 
showed nothing. He braided the pal- 
frey’s mane with autumn starflowers 
and smiled ever so slightly as he 
worked. Autumn turned to the first 
dripping and dismal, chill days 
of winter. The boy used bunches of 
bright feathers instead of flowers 
when he dressed the palfrey’s mane, 
and he did not ask for a winter jerkin, 
so Wald did not give him any. It was 
seldom enough, anyway, that the 
horses were used for pleasure at this 
season. The thin boy could spend his 
days huddled under a horseblanket in 
the loft. 

Hard winter came, and the small- 
pox season. 

Lady Aelynn was bored in the win- 
tertime, even more so than during 
the rest of the year. At least in the 

The Boy Who Plaited Manes 


fine weather there were walks out- 
side, there were riding and hunting 
and people to impress. It would not 
be reasonable for a lord’s wife, nobly 
born (though a younger child, and 
female), to wish for more than that. 
Lady Aelynn knew full well that her 
brief days of friendships and court- 
ships were over. She had wed tolera- 
bly well, and Lord Robley counted 
her among his possessions, a beauti- 
ful thing to be prized like his gold 
and his best horses. He was a manor 
lord, and she was his belonging, his 
lady, and not for others to touch even 
with their regard. She was entirely 
his. So there were walks for her in 
walled gardens, and pleasure riding 
and hunting by her lord’s side, and 
people to impress. 

But in the wintertime there were 
not even the walks. There was noth- 
ing for the Lady Aelynn to do but 
tend to her needlework and her own 
beauty, endlessly concerned with her 
clothes, her hair, her skin, even 
though she was so young, no more 
than seventeen — for she knew in her 
heart that it was for her beauty that 
Lord Robley smiled on her, and for 
no other reason. And though she did 
not think of it, she knew that her life 
lay in his grasping hands. 

Therefore she was ardently un- 
easy, and distressed only for herself, 
when the woman who arranged her 
hair each morning was laid abed with 
smallpox. Though as befits a lady of 
rank, Aelynn hid her dismay in vexa- 

tion. And it did not take her long to 
discover that none of her other tiring- 
women could serve her nearly as 

“Mother of God!’’ she raged, sur- 
veying her hair in the mirror for per- 
haps the tenth time. “The groom who 
plaits the horses’ manes in the stable 
could do better!’’ Then the truth of 
her own words struck her, and des- 
peration made her willing to be dar- 
ing. She smiled. “Bring him hither!’’ 

Her women stammered and curt- 
seyed and fled to consult among 
themselves and exclaim with the help 
in the kitchen. After some few min- 
utes of this, a bold kitchen maid was 
dispatched to the stable and returned 
with a shivering waif: the boy who 
plaited manes. 

It was not to be considered that 
such a beggar should go in to the 
lady. Her tiring-women squeaked in 
horror and made him bathe first, in a 
washbasin before the kitchen hearth, 
for there was a strong smell of horse 
and stable about him. They ordered 
him to scrub his own hair with strong 
soap and scent himself with lavender, 
and while some of them giggled and 
fled, others giggled and stayed, to 
pour water for him and see that he 
made a proper job of his ablutions. 
All that was demanded of him the boy 
who plaited manes did without any 
change in his thin face, any move- 
ment of his closed mouth, any flash of 
his feral eyes. At last they brought 
him clean clothing, jerkin and woolen 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

hose only a little too large, and pulled 
the things as straight as they could on 
him, and took him to the tower where 
the lady waited. 

He did not bow to the Lady Aelynn 
or look into her eyes for his instruc- 
tions, but his still mouth softened a 
little and his glance, calm and alert, 
like that of a woodland thing, darted 
to her hair. And at once, as if he could 
scarcely wait, he took his place be- 
hind her and lifted her tresses in his 
hands. Such a soft, fine, honey- 
colored mane of hair as he had never 
seen, and combs of gold and ivory ly- 
ing at hand on a rosewood table, and 
ribbons of silk and gold, everything 
he could have wanted, his for the 
sake of his skill. 

He started at the forehead, and 
the lady sat as if ih^ trance beneath 
the deft touch of his hands. 

Gentle, he was so gentle, she had 
never felt such a soft and gentle touch 
from any man, least of all from her 
lord. When Lord Robley wanted to 
use one of his possessions he seized 
it, not so hard as to hurt, but still 
firmly enough to take control. But 
this boy touched her as gently as a 
woman, no, a mother, for no tiring- 
woman or maid had ever gentled her 
so. . . . Yet unmistakably his was the 
touch of a man, though she could 
scarcely have told how she knew. 
Part of it was power, she could feel 
the gentle power in his touch, she 
could feel — uncanny, altogether 
eerie and uncanny, what she was feel- 

ing. It was as if his quick fingers 
called to her hair in soft command 
and her hair obeyed just for the sake 
of the one quick touch, all the while 
longing to embrace. . . . She stayed 
breathlessly still for him, like the 

He plaited her hair in braids thin 
as bluebell stems, only a wisp of hairs 
to each braid, one after another with 
both his deft hands as if each was as 
easy as a caress, making them stay 
with merely a touch of two fingers at 
the end, until all her hair lay in a silky 
cascade of them, catching the light 
and glimmering and swaying like a 
rich drapery when he made her move 
her head. Some of them he gathered 
and looped and tied up with the rib- 
bons which matched her dress, blue 
edged with gold. But most of them he 
left hanging to her bare back and 
shoulders. He surveyed his work with 
just a whisper of a smile when he was 
done, then turned and left without 
waiting for the lady’s nod, and she sat 
as if under a spell and watched his 
thin back as he walked away. Then 
she tossed her head at his lack of 
courtesy. But the swinging of her hair 
pleased her. 

She had him back to dress her hair 
the next day, and the next, and many 
days thereafter. And so that they 
would not have to be always bathing 
him, her tiring-women found him a 
room within the manorhouse doors, 
and a pallet and clean blankets, and a 
change of clothing, plain coarse cloth- 

Ttie Boy Who PlaHed Manes 


ing, such a servants wore. They trim- 
med the heavy hair that shadowed his 
eyes, also, but he looked no less the 
oddling with his thin, thin face and 
his calm burning glance and his mouth 
that seemed scarcely ever to move. 
He did as he was bid, whether by 
Wald or the lady or some kitchen 
maid, and every day he plaited Lady 
Aelynn’s hair differently. One day he 
shaped it all into a bright crown of 
braids atop her head. On other days 
he would plait it close to her head so 
that the tendrils caressed her neck, 
or in a haughty crest studded with 
jewels, or in a single soft feathered 
braid at one side. He always left her 
tower chamber at once, never look- 
ing at the lady to see if he had pleased 
her, as if he knew that she would al- 
ways be pleased. 

Always, she was. 

Things happened. The tiring- 
woman who had taken smallpox died 
of it, and Lady Aelynn did not care, 
not for the sake of her cherished hair 
and most certainly not for the sake of 
the woman herself. Lord Robley went 
away on a journey to discipline a debt- 
or vassal, and Lady Aelynn did not 
care except to be glad, for there was 
a sure sense growing in her of what 
she would do. 

When even her very tresses were 
enthralled by the touch of this odd- 
ling boy, longing to embrace him, 
could st)e be otherwise? 

When next he had plaited her 
mane of honey-colored hair and 

turned to leave her without a glance, 
she caught him by one thin arm. His 
eyes met hers with a steady, gathered 
look. She stood — she was taller than 
he, and larger, though she was as 
slender as any maiden. It did not mat- 
ter. She took him by one thin hand 
and led him to her bed, and there he 
did as he was bid. 

Nor did he disappoint her. His 
touch — she had never been touched 
so softly, so gently, so deftly, with 
such power. Nor was he lacking in 
manhood, for all that he was as thin 
and hairless as a boy. And his lips, af- 
ter all, knew how to move, and his 
tongue. But it was the touch of his 
thin hands that she hungered for, the 
gentle, tender, potent touch that 
thrilled her almost as if — she were 
loved. . . . 

He smiled at her afterward, slight- 
ly, softly, a whisper of a smile in the 
muted half-light of her curtained bed, 
and his lips moved. 

“You are swine,” he said, “all of 
you nobles.” 

And he got up, put on his plain, 
coarse clothing and left her without a 
backward glance. 

It terrified Lady Aelynn, that he 
was not truly a mute. Terrified her 
even more than what he had said, 
though she burned with mortified 
wrath whenever she thought of the 
latter. He, of all people, a mute, to 
speak such words to her and leave 
her helpless to avenge herself. . . . 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

Perhaps for that reason he would not 
betray her. She had thought it would 

be safe to take a mute as her lover 

Perhaps he would not betray her. 

In fact, it was not he who be- 
trayed her to her lord, but Wald. 

Her tiring-women suspected, per- 
haps because she had sent them on 
such a long errand. She had not 
thought they would suspect — who 
would think that such a wisp of a 
beardless boy could be a bedfellow? 
But perhaps they also had seen the 
wild glow deep in his gray-green eyes. 
They whispered among themselves 
and with the kitchen maids, and the 
bold kitchen maid giggled with the 
grooms, and Wald heard. 

Even though the boy who plaited 
manes did it all, Wald considered the 
constant plaiting and adorning of 
manes and tails a great bother. The 
whole fiissy business offended him, 
he had decided, and he had long 
since forgotten the few words of 
praise it had garnered from the lord 
at first. Moreover, he disliked the boy 
so vehemently that he was not think- 
ing clearly. It seemed to him that he 
could be rid of the boy and the 
wretched onus of braids and rosettes 
all in one stroke. The day the lord 
returned from his journey, Wald hur- 
ried to him, begged private audience, 
bowed low and made his humble 

Lord Robley heard him in icy si- 
lence, for he knew pettiness when he 
saw it; it had served him often in the 

past, and he would punish it if it 
misled him. He summoned his wife to 
question her. But the Lady Aelynn’s 
hair hung lank, and her guilt and 
shame could be seen plainly in her 
face from the moment she came be- 
fore him. 

Lord Robley’s roar could be heard 
even to the stables. 

He strode over to her where she 
lay crumpled and weeping on his 
chamber floor, lifted her head by its 
honey-gold hair and slashed her across 
the face with his sword. Then he left 
her screaming and stinging her wound 
with fresh tears, and he strode to the 
stable with his bloody sword still 
drawn, Wald fleeing before him all 
the way; when the lord burst in all 
the grooms were scattered but one. 
The boy Wald had accused stood 
plaiting the white palfrey’s mane. 

Lord Robley hacked the palfrey’s 
head from its braid-bedecked neck 
with his sword, and the boy who 
plaited manes stood by with some- 
thing smoldering deep in his unblink- 
ing gray-green eyes, stood calmly 
waiting. If he had screamed and 
turned to flee. Lord Robley would 
with great satisfaction have given him 
a coward’s death from the back. But 
it unnerved the lord that the boy 
awaited his pleasure with such mute 
—what? Defiance? There was no ser- 
vant’s boy in this one, no falling to 
the soiled straw, no groveling. If he 
had groveled he could have been 
kicked, stabbed, killed out of hand. 

The Boy Who PlaHed Manes 


also But this silent, watchful wait- 

ing, like the alertness of a wild thing 
—on the hunt or being hunted? It 
gave Lord Robley pause, like the pause 
of the wolf before the standing stag 
or the pause of the huntsman before 
the thicketed boar. He held the boy 
at the point of his sword — though 
no such holding was necessary, for 
the prisoner had not moved even to 
tremble — and roared for his men-at- 
arms to come take the boy to the 

There the nameless stranger stayed 
without water or food, and aside from 
starving him Lord Robley could not 
decide what to do with him. 

At first the boy who plaited manes 
paced in his prison restlessly — he 
had that freedom, for he was so thin 
and small that the shackles were too 
large to hold him. Later he lay in a 
scant bed of short straw and stared 
narrow-eyed at the darkness. And yet 
later, seeing the thin cascades of 
moonlight flow down through the 
high, iron-barred window and puddle 
in moon-glades on the stone floor, he 
got up and began to plait the moon- 

They were far finer than any horse- 
hair, moonbeams, finer even than the 
lady’s honey-colored locks, and his 
eyes grew wide with wonder and 
pleasure as he felt them. He made 
them into braids as fine as silk threads, 
flowing together into a lacework as 
close as woven cloth, and when he 
had reached as high as he could, 

plaiting, he stroked as if combing a 
long mane with his fingers and pulled 
more moonlight down out of sky— 
for this stuff was not like any other 
stuff he had even worked with, it 
slipped and slid worse than any hair, 
there seemed to be no beginning or 
end to it except the barriers that men 
put in its way. He stood plaiting the 
fine, thin plaits until he had raised a 
shimmering heap on the floor, and 
then he stepped back and allowed 
the moon to move on. His handiwork 
he laid carefully aside in a comer. 

The boy who plaited moonbeams 
did not sleep, but sat watching for 
the dawn, his eyes glowing greenly in 
the darkened cell. He saw the sky 
lighten beyond the high window and 
waited stolidly, as the wolf waits for 
the gathering of the pack, as a wildcat 
waits for the game to pass along the 
trail below the rock where it lies. Not 
until the day had neared its mid did 
the sun’s rays, thrust through the nar- 
row spaces between the high bars, 
wheel their shafts down to where he 
could reach them. Then he got up 
and began to plait the sunlight. 

Guards were about, or more alert, 
in the daytime, and they gathered at 
the heavy door of his prison, peering 
in between the iron bars of its small 
window, gawking and quarreling with 
each other for turns. They watched 
his unwavering eyes, saw the slight 
smile come on his face as he worked, 
though his thin hands glowed red as 
if seen through fire. They saw the 


Fantasy & Science Fiction 

shining mound he raised on the floor, 
and whispered among themselves and 
did not know what to do, for none of 
them dared to touch it or him. One of 
them requested a captain to come 
look. And the captain summoned the 
steward, and the steward went to re- 
port to the lord. And from outside 
the cries began to sound that the sun 
was standing still. 

After the boy had finished, he 
stood back and let the sun move on, 
then sat resting on his filthy straw. 
Within minutes the dungeon door 
burst open and Lord Robley himself 
strode in. 

Lord Robley had grown weary of 
mutilating his wife, and he had not 
yet decided what to do with his other 
prisoner. Annoyed by the reports from 
the prison, he expected that an idea 
would come to him when he saw the 
boy. He entered with drawn sword. 
But all thoughts of the thin young 
body before him were sent whirling 
away from his mind by what he saw 
laid out on the stone floor at his feet. 

A mantle, a kingly cloak — but no 
king had ever owned such a cloak. All 
shining, the outside of it silver and 
the inside gold — but no, to call it 
silver and gold was to insult it. More 
like water and fire, flow and flame, 
shimmering as if it moved, as if it 
were alive, and yet it had been made 
by hands, he could see the workman- 
ship, so fine that every thread was 
worth a gasp of pleasure, the outside 
of it somehow braided and plaited to 

the lining, and all around the edge a 
fringe of threads like bright fur so 
fine that it wavered in the air like 
flame. Lord Robley had no thought 
but to settle the fiery gleaming thing 
on his shoulders, to wear that glory 
and be finer than any king. He seized 
it and flung it on— 

And screamed as he had not yet 
made his wife scream, with the shriek 
of mortal agony. His whole hard body 
glowed as if it had been placed in a 
furnace. His face contorted, and he 
fell dead. 

The boy who plaited sunbeams 
got up in a quiet, alert way and walked 
forward, as noiseless on his feet as a 
lynx. He reached down and took the 
cloak off the body of the lord, twirled 
it and placed it on his own shoulders, 
and it did not harm him. But in that 
cloak he seemed insubstantial, like 
something moving in moonlight and 
shadow, something nameless roam- 
ing in the night. He walked out of 
the open dungeon door, between the 
guards clustered there, past the lord’s 
retinue and the steward, and they all 
shrank back from him, flattened them- 
selves against the stone walls of the 
corridor so as not to come near him. 
No one dared take hold of him or try 
to stop him. He walked out through 
the courtyard, past the stable, and 
out the manor gates with the settled 
air of one whose business is done. 
The men-at-arms gathered atop the 
wall and watched him go. 

Wald the master groom lived to 

The Boy Who Plaited Manes 


old age sweating every night with 
terror, and died of a weakened heart 
in the midst of a nightmare. Nothing 
else but his own fear harmed him. 
The boy who plaited — mane of sun, 
mane of moon — was never seen 

again in that place, except that chil- 
dren sometimes told the tale of hav- 
ing glimpsed him in the wild heart of 
a storm, plaiting the long lashes of 
wind and rain. 


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